Posted by: ramonamom | May 15, 2008

Question re: Adopting older boys from Eastern European culture

A reader has asked some questions regarding two boys they are in the process of bringing home from Eastern Europe.  These boys are ages 10 and 16 and are unrelated to each other.  Since the answers could help other families, also, we would like to post them here:


One of the deacons at my church recommended nouthetic counseling for them when we get them home.  My questions for you are:


Nouthetic counseling is an absolutely excellent resource, but it would be best to wait until they have a good grasp on the language to start having them work with a counselor in a formal manner.  I would certainly recommend that they be around godly friends on a regular basis, seeing how they live their lives, but formal counseling in the beginning would probably be expecting too much out of them.  It takes a good while to simply adjust to a new culture, and they WILL see how you live your lives as Christians during that time of adjustment. 


Having said that, I think Nouthetic Counseling for you as parents is a wonderful idea, though!  It would be an excellent idea for you to take some basic counseling courses yourself, or to read some counseling books (such as Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, by Paul David Tripp).  That way, you would be prepared to counsel them in everyday challenges that arose. 


How do you address the practical issues (lying, cursing, etc)  in a gospel centered way with a teen who has had no gospel exposure and who speaks no English?


First of all, you need to examine your expectations of them before they even come home.  You are correct to assume that they will bring these bad habits, and probably many more, with them and it will take plenty of time to work through these issues.  Lying is extremely common in their culture – it is simply a way of life and a defense mechanism for children in institutions.  They may not even realize that it is wrong for them to lie, or they may not recognize when they are telling a lie.  Thus, you will need to be patient and realize that you will be teaching them to “put off” years of bad habits while teaching them to “put on” the new ones – truth and honesty.


Lying and cursing are two habits which will likely take time to break.  As your communication level increases, work to help them understand what it means to tell the truth and that this is what God (and you, as their parents) expect out of them.  Make sure they have Bibles printed in their native language, preferable with English alongside it.  Then, take them to that Bible as you gently explain that God hates lies.  Use scripture verses that would be easy for a beginner to understand, such as Psalm 34:13, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies,” being careful to explain the terms to them.  Regarding cursing, again use some simple scriptures in Proverbs and explain that the words they are using are not appropriate.  However, we found it helpful to completely ignore all conversations between our kids in Russian and not let it bother us when they spoke to each other and we didn’t know what they were saying.  When words are spoken for the effect they have on others and there is no effect, then those words will fall by the wayside, being discarded as time goes on


Before you leave their native country, put your translator to good use.  Have him or her talk to your boys and give them some basic rules that you want them to follow.  Consider these carefully, as you will need to keep them to a minimum and make them simple so that they can easily be remembered in the midst of all the changes.  Remember Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Training is a process – something that will take time and loving instruction, so be patient with them. 


Since the Bible speaks first and foremost to children regarding honoring their father and mother (Deut. 5:16, Eph. 6:1-2), it would be best to focus your rules around that biblical principle.  For example, you could have your translator explain to them that you expect them to obey you the first time when you tell them to do things and to answer your instructions with a “Yes Ma’am and Yes Sir”.  Without them even fully understanding what that means, you can begin instilling that habit in them from day one.  If they do not seem willing to agree to these rules on their own, make some simple consequences for disobedience that you can easily enforce and have the translator explain those to them.  A good example would be a personal music device, such as a CD player or an MP3 player.  You could give them one as a gift, but the consequences of not obeying the first time might be taking that back away from them for a certain period of time (Suggestion – make the time frame short to start with, to avoid frustration on their part.  You can always make it longer as time goes on, if necessary.)  Please understand that these are only examples – the practical applications should be determined by the adoptive parents according to the particular needs and abilities of the children/teens.


When we adopted our teens, we had our translator write a page of very basic phrases in both English and Russian.  Then, when we later needed to communicate with them, we could point to a  particular phrase and we would understand each other.  (Having a child who can read their own native language is a prerequisite for this, of course.)  One word (well, actually it was a concept) that we found particularly helpful was “later”.  If they asked us for something that we a) wanted to give to them but b) wanted the timing to be on our own terms, we would use the term “later”.  That way, we were not denying them the item or privilege, but we were having them honor us by receiving it on our terms.


Can I plan to parent them in the same way that I parented my other (bio) kids or do I really need an entirely different approach?


Yes and no.  There are some areas in which you will want to parent them in the same way as your biological children, but especially in the beginning things will be very, very different from a parenting perspective.  For one thing, you may not start off having the same affection for them as you do the children you have raised from birth.  These older kids can sometimes be quite abrasive and, without that familial history, you have to be careful to not begin resenting their intrusion upon what may have been a formerly cohesive family unit. 


As time goes on and your communication level increases, you will need to begin expecting more out of your adopted children in the way of family contributions (chores, etc) and following rules – in other words, parenting them more similar to the ways in which you have your biological children.  Choose your battles carefully, though, so as to not “embitter your children”, as they may become discouraged (Col. 3:21).  Remember to encourage them for even the smallest victories and embrace them for the persons God has made them to be. 


We have previously written a series of essays called Reasonable Expectations, and I hope to edit these and begin posting them here soon.  These address specific areas regarding older adopted children and give many more practical examples. 


Thank you so much for your excellent question and feel free to ask any more you may have. 



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