Only people weirder than your kids? Their friends

No matter how loving a parent you are, there will come a time when you look at your child and secretly think, "What a weirdo."

It could come when the child is, say, four years old, after the "new" has worn off. One day, you'll look at this boy as he's screaming around your house, wearing only Power Rangers underwear and a saucepan on his head, and you'll think: "He's so strange."

Or, this epiphany might come when the child is older. Perhaps when she's in middle school and boldly announces that she wants to pierce her nose and wear a ring there, a la El Toro. As the parents calmly argue against this cosmetic move, what's going through their minds is: "You wingnut."

Do not feel guilty about these moments, parents. They are universal. There's nothing wrong with your parenting skills. There's something wrong with your child. Namely, childhood.

Children are different from the rest of us. They are seething vessels of hormones and imagination and impulse and energy. They act inappropriately, usually at the worst possible times, and they make terrible decisions, all in the name of "fun." Worse yet, they typically get away with it.

If an adult burst into a dinner party naked, one hand stuck in a jar of peanut butter and the other dragging a squawling cat by its tail, we wouldn't invite that adult to any more social occasions. But if a three-year-old does the same thing, we all say, "Isn't that cute?" Even the embarrassed parents, who are, on the inside, thinking, "Holy socks, our kid is a psycho."

There is one way for parents to feel better about their children's strange behaviors: Look at their friends.

Pay attention to the little crackpots who come over for play-dates, and pretty soon you'll find yourself thinking: "OK, my child's weird, but not as weird as that kid."

For every tot who refuses to eat beans, there's another somewhere who sticks beans up his nose. For every little girl who dotes on Barbie, there's one who sets fire to Barbie. For every boy who thinks saucepans make good helmets, there's one who thinks saucepans make good bedpans. For every teen who dresses like a vampire, there's one who actually sleeps inside a coffin and drinks blood.

That kid, the one who's even weirder than your own? He or she will be your child's best friend. And, in comparison, your own child will start to look pretty darned good.

Children don't do this on purpose. They select their friends on the basis of shared interests, mutual attraction and convenience. They're not trying to make themselves look better in parents' eyes. It just turns out that way.

Teens are working a completely different agenda. They choose oddball friends because they think that will make their own parents crazy. It's part of the rebellion of adolescence. Everything parents say is wrong, including helpful hints about who's an appropriate friend. Whichever weirdo you parents express the most misgivings about, that's the one your child will end up rooming with in college. Or marrying. Or both.

But try not to think that far ahead, parents. Look at your child's friends as they are today and take heart. Your own situation could be worse.

But keep this little nugget in mind as well: When your children go to visit another household, a parent there undoubtedly is studying them and thinking: "OK, my child is weird, but at least I don't have to raise those kids."

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