IT?S THE DAY OF THE WEEK THAT HE looks forward to the most. When he sees me, his eyes light up and he breaks into a smile. When I sometimes forget that it?s our special day, he does not hesitate to show his disappointment and my heart melts. That?s one of the things I love about him?he wears his heart on his sleeve.

Wednesdays are dedicated date days to me and my 11-year-old son.

We began the practice when he turned 10. Now that he is an adolescent, I want him to learn the proper way of treating a girl and of showing affection and care in a healthy manner. When I pick him up from school, he has the afternoon all planned out. Usually it?s merienda and a trip to the bookstore, or a movie. Over the meal, he tells me about his day and the joys and pains of being in the fifth grade, and almost anything under the sun. He smiles when I ask him about his crushes, but doesn?t ever say who they are. ?That?s top secret??

A mother will always be a son?s first love. Dr. William Pollack, the director of the Centers for Men and Young Men, and director for continuing education at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, is an internationally recognized authority on boys and men. He is author of the 1998 bestseller ?Real Boys? Voices.?

Pollack says boys learn their first and earliest lessons on love from their mothers. ?Far from making boys weaker, the love of a mother can and does actually make boys stronger, emotionally and psychologically. Far from making boys dependent, the base of safety a loving mother can create?a connection that her son can rely on all his life?provides a boy with the courage to explore the outside world. But most important, far from making a boy act in ?girl-like? ways, a loving mother actually plays an integral role in helping a boy develop his masculinity.?

There is certainly much wisdom in the piece of advice a high school teacher of mine once gave our freshman class??If you want to know how your boyfriends will be like as husbands, watch how he treats his mother.?

How a young man navigates the emotional landscape of love and lust later on has a lot to do with how his mama raised him. Want to find out if he?s a mama?s boy? Spend time with his mother and him and watch the dynamics. Watch out, too, if he has a mother who is disciple of the fuhrer, one who is a pushover or, worse, emotionally unavailable.

?In actuality, boys are often sensitive, caring, sad, loving, or frightened?but constricted by the Boy Code?hiding these qualities and emotions behind a stolid exterior,? Pollack explains. In ?Real Boys? Voices,? dozens of boys talk to Pollack about bullies and mentors, ideals and putdowns, friendship and violence, abuse and addiction. He says that in a ?shame-free zone? they speak for themselves and for thousands of other boys whose voices are still unheard.

What then can a mother like myself do to help my son grow up into a healthy and emotionally strong yet sensitive young man?

On the website, Pollack explains that ?mothers should feel empowered to feel just as close to their sons as to their daughters? and not give in to societal pressures to prematurely push boys away. Even when boys enter the adolescent ?leave-me-alone? years, mothers don?t have to disconnect emotionally, he says. ?If the umbilical cord is a metaphor?let it stretch and stretch, but never be cut.?

Accept boys

It?s equally important to truly accept boys? rough-and-tumble side as well, Pollack says, and as they go into their teens, to be less uptight about their sexual urges.

Pollack says parents need to take a different approach to boys. ?We see boys as ?toxic??and they know it.? He says if parents are able to provide a shame-free zone at home where their emotions and sensitivity are accepted, they will be more expressive. In other words, home must ideally be a safe harbor where our sons can ?dock? safely after sailing through what can sometimes be turbulent seas at school.

In the article ?Teen Care: Promoting Individuation Not Separation,? Pollack stresses the importance of keeping ties no matter the age or family structure:

?It?s time to put aside fruitless arguments about what constitutes a ?real? family and to focus on the ties that bind within healthy families of all types: human connectedness.

?What adolescents need the most? whether they are girls or boys?is knowing that they have meaningful connections not only with their peers, but also, and especially, with their parents or other family members.?

He says it is a dangerous myth to think adolescents need or want to separate from their families. ?Our children desperately need their parents, family and extended family to be there for them, to stand firm, yet show flexibility, and form a living wall of love that they can lean on?and bounce off?regularly. It?s not separation, but individuation? becoming more mature in the context of loving relationships?that healthy adolescence is all about.?

In a society and world fraught with single-parent households, Pollack gives this reassurance: Don?t castigate yourself for not being a perfect parent, but never give up. Blame-free environments at home are good for parent and child. Worry less about limits and focus on shared frailty and joy with reality limitations that you and your child will both need to face.

?Don?t go at it alone. That?s exactly where your kids are getting stuck. Whether you?re a traditional mother-father pair or a single parent, or one of the myriad new family constellations, reach out to neighbors, clergy, parents and schools. Mentors from outside the immediate family are important for you and your children.?

E-mail the author at cathybabao@