Motherhood in famine and pandemic | Inquirer Opinion

Motherhood in famine and pandemic

Last October, I received and accepted a speaking invitation from a church to preach on a Mother’s Day Sunday service this year. With all the life changes we’re having on lockdown, I had forgotten about it until two weeks ago when the pastor sent me a reminder.

The message I chose from an earlier sermon has not been timelier than today: What did mothers do in times of genocide and famine? I refer to two outstanding women in the Old Testament in my talk, “Parenting Our Children and Our Parents.”


Jochebed was the mother of Moses. Her father was Levi and her grandfather, Jacob. Joseph “the Dreamer” was her uncle. When Jacob’s family moved to Egypt because of famine, the family stayed on thanks to Joseph. Now, the Hebrews were outnumbering the Egyptians and the Pharaoh decreed that no newborn Hebrew boys should be allowed to live, and ordered the midwives to execute the order. Jochebed already had Miriam and Aaron, and was now again pregnant. What a time for Moses to be born! For three months, Jochebed hid Moses in the house. Knowing that it would be impossible to keep the boy any longer, she had a plan.

Jochebed made a waterproof basket, laid the baby on it, let the reed-plaited cradle move to the riverbanks among the bushes, and instructed Miriam to watch over it. When it was time for the Pharaoh’s daughter to bath, she saw the basket, recognized the Hebrew boy in it and had compassion for him. Miriam was ready at hand to suggest getting a Hebrew nurse, and so Jochebed was brought to the palace to nurse her own baby and nurture him in the word of Jehovah. Because of her wisdom and intelligence, Jochebed’s careful and detailed plan worked out in such a time of danger, one that required great courage and unwavering trust. And thus, Moses lived to become one of the greatest leaders of all times.


Another inspiring story is that of Naomi and Ruth, at a time of great sadness and tragedy. Naomi lost her husband and two sons successively. She and her husband had escaped famine from Bethlehem to Moab, and there their two sons married two Moabite women. Now that the famine in her hometown had ended, Naomi planned to go back to Bethlehem, and warmly advised her two young daughters-in-law to stay behind and remarry. At first both refused; but Orpah, though sad, acceded and went on her way. Ruth was not about to give up and insisted, “Your God is my God, and wherever you go, I will go.” Naomi must be some mother-in-law to elicit such fierce devotion from a daughter-in-law.

Ruth took care of Naomi and went to the fields to pick leftover grains. Now Naomi had a good plan. The field owner was Boaz, a relative of her late husband. In the Old Testament tradition, a relative could “redeem” another relative’s widow. Ruth was instructed to lay beside Boaz in his tent, and lo and behold, Boaz was moved and married Ruth. They became the parents of Obed, who was the father of Jesse who bore David. Boaz and Ruth were the direct ancestors of Jesus.

In these times of the pandemic, many parents must make hard decisions to protect their children, and sometimes also sacrificial decisions to stay with their parents or parents-in-laws. As a sandwiched generation, many couples need to think of the welfare of three generations. We are not only parents to our children, but also parents to our aging parents. This protracted community quarantine is an opportune time to rethink plans, restore relationships, rediscover who are most precious in our lives, and reflect on what really matters.

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers, but also to everyone—a day to remind us of the sacrifices of our mother!

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Grace Shangkuan Koo, Ph.D., is a professor of educational psychology at the University of the Philippines and author of 10 books. Her first one was titled “Raising Wise Dads, Moms, and Kids.” Email: [email protected]

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TAGS: Commentary, famine, Grace Shangkuan Koo, motherhood, pandemic
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