Blaming mother is the strategy of children of all ages

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My Daughter Justine always had the impression I'd be pressuring her to go back to work right after she had her baby. I told her the most extraordinary time she'd have with her child would be those first few years so she should take them. After all, I did. I had Gordon who worked from home and the support of the extended family that is a fact of life for an Italian. I also thought it was a good idea that when children lifted their heads they would see and feel love from people other than their parents, so this created no problem for me when I started The Body Shop; my mum was there to help me with them. Gordon wasn't going to be around as he decided to go off for a couple of years to ride a horse from Buenos Aires to New York in his pursuit of the grand gesture. The gospel according to this week's Panorama is that the working mother is breeding behavioural problems in her kids. Now it's quantity time, not quality time that counts. I don't know one woman that doesn't need to work. So the working mother is damned if she does, damned if she doesn't. And isn't that a familiar and frustrating situation? Blaming Mum is usually a sign of refusing to grow up in a man. I guess it makes perfect sense that our male-dominated society still sees fit to blame the mother, whether she is a single parent or with a partner. It's still true that men spend seven times less time with their kids than women do, so equality in the home and the workplace is still a dangerously mythic thing.

We need to press for greater gender equity on a massive scale because the work women do is often considered unimportant. If women are responsible for it, it doesn't rate attention by power-holders, decision-makers and especially, economic indicators. Which is why, in this country at least, the working mother soldiers on with the worst day-care facilities in Western Europe. In my rosy vision of the future, business acknowledges its responsibility towards protecting the family. When government fails to support working parents by providing day-care facilities, business has an unprecedented opportunity to create a special place where the parent is served, and child development is supported, where families are welcomed and values are explored and protected.

PROTECTION. It's a word I'm hearing more and more. In Mary Pipher's excellent book Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, she analyses the closing-in of parents' roles. Once they acted as agents of culture for their daughters. Now they feel compelled to protect their children from cultural influences. Never mind the generation gap, sometimes it feels there's an undeclared war being waged on the next generation. Surely that's the real threat to our national security, but politicians won't wake up to it because kids don't vote. So after the baby-hugging, family-plugging ploys of election time, the politicians go back to business as usual, perfectly comfortable with the fact that they are failing the future. But for the rest of us, that sense of failure is a goad. With my own daughters, for instance, I'm as full of pride at what they have become as any mother could be, but at the same time I'm nagged by guilt. What did I miss? Why is their relationship with their grandmother so easy and intimate? Perhaps the French essayist Montaigne nailed it more than 400 years ago when he said something about parents owing their children everything, children owing their parents nothing in return. Is that the root of a million misunderstandings?

ONE OF the battlefields of that undeclared war I mentioned is drugs. The protection of our young is invoked to justify the official "war on drugs" but current drug policies have merely spurred the growth of one of the largest and most sophisticated and violent industries. You would think the US government would have learnt a lesson from Prohibition but there as well as here official attitudes simply aren't realistic. I realised just how out of touch they are at a meeting I attended last week in Santa Barbara, California. Funded by billionaire George Soros, a man whose social vision I'm finding acute, it was a gathering of people bent on legalising marijuana for medical use. Pot has proved invaluable for easing the pain and stimulating the appetites of people debilitated by Aids, cancer, glaucoma and arthritis. The government says legalisation for medical use sends the wrong message to our young. How misguided is that protective instinct! There were congressmen and police officers, as well as doctors, at the meeting. I talked to a man who had been sentenced to prison for supplying marijuana to his terminally-ill mother. His case proved the law is truly an ass, defying compassion and common sense, bucking popular sentiment. During the November elections in the US, a majority of Californians said yes to Proposition 215, an initiative that would legalise the cultivation and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Next door in conservative Arizona, the electorate went even further, extending the umbrella to cover legitimate medical use of any drug, including heroin and LSD. These watershed demonstrations of people-power freaked Washington out. It mobilised to ensure the laws remain unchanged elsewhere in America. The US government's bullheadedness puts it on a collision course with an extraordinary coalition of citizens: doctors, senior citizens, the lesbian and gay community, clergy from many denominations, cancer groups and even unions joined Californians for Compassionate Use, the group that pushed Proposition 215. Meanwhile, Marinol, a synthetic version of pot's active ingredient THC, comes government- approved at pounds 35 a pop (a joint with the same dosage costs between 60p and pounds 3). You don't need to be a maths whiz to work out which looks better on a pharmaceutical company's bottom line. And marijuana for medical use remains illegal in this country, even as the number of patients who could reap its benefits rises. Here's one time we could use a little Californian enlightenment.