Yelena Malysheva decided she'd give it a month. If, after that, her boyfriend and son couldn't strike up a rapport, she'd have to decline his persistent proposals for marriage. "This is a serious step," she told Robert Butterworth, her suitor. "You guys have to like each other."
She and Butterworth met onboard a cruise ship in her native Russia. He was vacationing, and she was working as a translator for American tourists. They became fast friends, kept in touch, and shuttled back and forth between the United States and Russia a few times before he popped the question.
His assignment to get along with Ms. Malysheva's nine-year-old son Anton - or else - was complicated by the fact that they didn't speak each other's language. But, to her astonishment, before the month of intense daily contact was up, Butterworth was uttering a few words of Russian, and Anton had picked up some English. Now, five years later, Butterworth and Anton can't get enough of each other. "Sometimes I feel lonely because they're out playing all day!" says Malysheva with a laugh.
She thinks it's imperative to insist upon a "trial" period during which a relationship between boyfriend and child can develop a bit. And preferably for longer than a month. Their time together was limited because it was a long-distance relationship, she explains.
Malysheva was especially determined that the two of them get along because Anton's father wasn't involved in his life. "He desperately needed a dad who would be a good role model," she says. It certainly helped that, although Butterworth didn't have children of his own, he works with them every day as a child psychologist. "I had more kids than any parent in America," he says, adding: "Still, there's nothing like raising one yourself." She also works with children - those labeled "emotionally disturbed" at an elementary school in Los Angeles.
One initially tricky issue was discipline. Malysheva quickly found herself playing the role of coach to Butterworth. "He spoiled him at first," she recalls. "That's the tendency when the man wants badly to be liked." She says, however, that Butterworth's training helped him realize this wasn't right. "He'd ask me to watch and tell him if he was doing OK," she says. Now they've learned to share the disciplinary role. "When it's something I feel strongly about, he supports me, and vice versa," she explains.
Soon after working through the adjustments of newly married life, Malysheva discovered several books geared for women in her position. "In my country, we don't have those books," she says. "There's such a beautiful selection of them here in the States. I was thrilled when I picked up one on how to help your boyfriend and child get along. I found that, without knowing it, I had done just about everything they suggested."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society