7 p.m.
7:30 p.m.
8 p.m.
Midnight during a sleep cycle interruption.
4 a.m.
6 a.m.

No these are not times my baby woke up for a feeding or from teething pain. These are the moments my son cried out for “Dada” last night.

In the most heartbreaking pitch a toddler is capable offueled by sadness and a true sense of missing his daddyour son wakes from his sleep, stands in his crib, and cries out for his daddy. I wake from a deep sleep, and I’m met with a sinking feeling in my stomach as I walk over to console our child.

Moms can comfort so many needs of their children, it’s basically our specialty. But in a cruel plot twist, there’s a big request this mama can’t fulfill.

I know we’re not alone in this journey. I know across the entire world, other children are put to bed missing a parent for various reasons. Maybe they are working night shifts, traveling for their job, work in another state to provide for their family. Maybe he walked out of their lives and they long for their father figure back. Maybe their parent has passed away.

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Or maybe, if you’re one of the thousands of military families like us, Daddy or Mommy isn’t home right now because he’s serving his country.

You see videos of families reuniting. You see Christmas cards with clever split shots. You see daddy dolls kids carry around. You see gorgeous photos of children with boots and American flags. I’m guilty of sharing these moments. My husband missed Halloween but bravely dressed up as a bumblebee overseas and sent us photos of his holiday participation.

But can I tell you something that will wreck your heart as much as it’s wrecked mine? These are 1% of the moments military families share.

I don’t share videos of the baby monitor of my son crying “Dada come back” for hours each night. I don’t share how sad my son looks after our FaceTime concludes. I don’t share photos of my son staring out his bedroom window saying “DADA!” with a huge grin as he watches similar black pickups drive by our home.

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It’s all too raw and sad to let people know. We work through it with the best methods we can for his age. We sing songs about grownups coming back. We have our daddy doll. We keep busy with other activities. We are pulling out all the stops, only for the loneliness of the night to creep up on our children’s hearts.

And daddy does come back. Always. But it isn’t all smooth sailing.

When Daddy first comes home, our son is confused. He acts out reintegrating into the routine. He holds onto me with the force of a magnet and, depending on the length of separation, takes a little while to warm back up to Daddy and enjoy their one-on-one time without Mommy.

There’s immense grief in watching your husband see his child avoid him. It fills my heart with such heaviness I’m not sure how much more my heart can hold before it breaks. I hide the tears so my son knows Mommy is strong and a stable force in his life but deep down—Mommy is sad, too.

The heartbreaking truth is life as a military child is difficult.

Babies are born without the instant connection and feeling of a daddy’s chest. Kids have one seat taken on the basketball bleachers for games. Toddlers are forced to try to process emotions meant for adults. Part of their lives are missing and they are doing their best to grow without it.

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Thank you to the kind men at the zoo, the grocery store, and parks who give my son a high five and said “HIYA BUDDY” when my son mistakes him for his own father. Your tall figure and brown hair and baseball cap are easy to confuse as the one we miss so dearly. He really needed that high five. Thank you to my friends’ husbands who embrace lap sits and hugsmy son just wants the big, strong, teddy-bear fatherly company.

So when you pray at night and you pray for our soldiers and their families, please say an extra prayer for the young children who go to bed with a heart full of sadness because they can’t understand right now the higher purpose their brave daddies and mommies are serving. Pray for the kids who understand and are at the age of worry. Pray for the families, but please say that extra prayer for the children.

Because kids serve, too.

Jennifer Bailey

Stay at home mom enjoying one little boy and navigating parenting one trip to Target at a time.