SOLDIER Paul Astley and girlfriend Charlotte have been together for more than five years in their ‘blended family’. Between them they have six children: twins Amy and Lisa (17), Lewis (13), Ellis (13), Juliet (10) and Paige (8).
I like to call ours a patchwork family – very different to what people expect an Army family to be. We have our own house in Poole and I’m currently posted to Lulworth Camp, so I commute the 30-mile round trip each day. I have two children from previous relationships – both of whom regularly come to stay with me – Charlotte, her four children and our Bengal cats Whiskey and Chase.
Being in a common law relationship means we don’t have access to some of the benefits more traditional Army families do. However, we do get involved with organised family events and schemes such as Forces Help to Buy have allowed us to purchase our own home, something we’d have otherwise found difficult.
Charlotte and our children do feel very disjointed from the Army circle, especially when I’m deployed or have other military commitments. They mainly stay in the loop via friends and social media. They had a life before the Army and no matter where I’ve been posted, Charlotte has always tried to keep a foothold in Poole. As difficult as it can be to not always be together, the positive aspect has been stability for our children. My current posting is the best I’ve had as I’m home every night!
While we haven’t experienced patch life, now that I am coming to the end of my service, I feel that already being in our own home means I can begin to disengage from the Army more easily. We can start to make more civilian friends to make our transition to civvy life easier to cope with.
My advice for a new Army family? Appreciate each other’s role – whether that’s to work or stay at home. Good communication and keeping each other informed about what’s to come – be that a posting or a deployment – has made for a happier family life and happy children!