SO BARONESS Thatcher is upset that the press are being mean about her boy. It isn't surprising, really: Mark has always been her Achilles' heel. He is the only person who could make her cry. The only one who could utterly befuddle her political judgement.

Lady Thatcher's unconditional love for her son is one of the few things that makes her human. She may have been iron-willed when facing a room full of European prime ministers, and run rings around her cabinet, but when it comes to Mark, she is, like so many other doting mothers, quite unable to see where the baby ends and the man begins.

Interviewing mothers for my book The Trouble With Boys, several commented that they didn't really know what to do with a boy baby. When a person doesn't know what to say, or think, the next best thing is to cuddle. Research demonstrates that is exactly what the average mother does - she chats to her daughters and cuddles her sons.

To a mother, a daughter is an apprentice woman and will be given responsibilities as soon as she is old enough. A boy is, presumably, an apprentice man, but that is a difficult concept for a mother, and while she and he are trying to work out what an apprentice man actually does, the mother just goes on babying him. She communicates with her heart, not her head.

Whether it is the boy baby or the girl baby who gets the best deal is a matter for debate, but it is worth remarking on the differences between Mark and his twin sister, Carol. She is self- motivated, hard-working and, by all accounts, sociable. He is famously inarticulate and extremely rich - though still allegedly dependent on Mummy for his breaks.

According to one newspaper article, he still brings his washing home to mother whenever he's in Britain. I doubt that she washes his socks by hand, but she may well still be doing his emotional housekeeping - helping him to articulate the stuff that lurks beneath the surface of even the surliest young man, waiting for some accommodating and utterly besotted woman to winkle it out.

I was astonished at how many mothers confided to me that their sons were 'particularly sensitive'. Often these sensitive lads seemed to me loutish and loud, but their mothers always had the same explanation: 'He behaves like that because he doesn't know how to cope with all the other rough boys.'

As a casual observer, it may appear that these women are blinded by love, but in fact they have a pretty accurate assessment of the situation. Many of these little boys had indeed been sensitive - until they started school. Then the conditioning process got under way. Little boys who would chatter, laugh and cry when necessary, suddenly became surly, anxious and even aggressive. Each mother would see her baby change and assume that the other boys were responsible and that her son uniquely was being forced to adjust to huge social pressures.

The reality is that all little boys are forced to adjust to the social pressure of becoming what society expects of a young man. In doing so, they must give up their sensitivity because, in the words of Herb Goldberg, in his book The Hazards of Being Male: 'The man who feels becomes inefficient because he gets emotionally involved and this inevitably slows him down and distracts him. His more dehumanised competition will then surely pass him by.'

Often it is only the mother who sees the sensitive boy because she is the only person in the world he dares show his sensitivity to. Mother and son collude in a conspiracy in which the boy is allowed to hang on to a little of the human warmth that keeps him alive, while showing the world how tough he is.

Scarlett MccGwire interviewed the mothers of murderers in her book Women Who Love Men Who Kill. These are the words of one of them: 'Peter was something of a gambler but he was always a thoughtful, caring person where other people were concerned. He seemed driven at times by the need to make other people happy.' He was also convicted for killing a man to whom he owed money. When she was told that her son had been arrested for murder, Peter's mother blamed herself for his predicament, saying: 'I wish I had kept my life simple and kept going to church.'

One can imagine Margaret Thatcher murmuring much the same thing to herself when, as she rose through the ranks of her party, her darling son failed to turn out quite as she might have wished. Was it her fault that he got such lousy A-levels and didn't go to university, that he went into accountancy and failed the exams, that he tried rally driving and got lost in a desert?

For someone who puts such faith in personal success, she must have found Mark's failures hard to bear. She could demand that industry and the unemployed stand on their own feet but what was she to do about Mark?

When boys go wrong they have a tendency to go very wrong. Mark, as far as we know, had never gone beyond making an idiot of himself in public, but no loving mother wants to feel that her son is at risk. Mrs Thatcher had other problems on her hands but she was still his mum, so some believe she had to fix it, make things safe, make sure he earned such huge amounts of money that he simply couldn't get into trouble. Then she could relax and get on with running the world.

Some mothers have to make do with borrowing a tenner from the gas money to keep their offspring out of trouble, but the instinct is still the same. The boy is still her baby, still innocent, it is still the other boys' fault and her own son is, of course, still, uniquely, capable of pushing all her emotional buttons.

(Photograph omitted)