Forget trying to impress your toddler with the latest from Annabel Karmel – a recent study of 4,000 mothers showed we rely on a grand total of just nine dishes to feed our families.

Nine dishes. I’m pretty impressed. I have two. Pasta with tomato sauce and pasta with cheese sauce. Or sometimes, when I am feeling particularly disenchanted with motherhood, we have shreddies for tea. Who are these women whose children will happily eat casseroles and curry? One of my daughters once refused to eat cucumber, claiming it was ‘too spicy’.

With two children and a seven year age gap, catering for everyone’s tastes, at mealtimes and otherwise, can be a struggle, and I do find myself offering up the same bland dishes again and again. It’s just laziness. I’m a busy woman and, unlike 81% of the mothers in the survey, I don’t have the time or enthusiasm to create two or three different meals every night.

But cooking is just one of the many areas of parenting I could do with improving. As a single mother, juggling two kids and three home based jobs, I admit sometimes the boundaries blur between work and family. I know weekends and evenings should be about the children, but I often find myself having to encourage ‘independent play’ while I sneak off to reply to emails.

My teenager is fine with this. A can amuse herself for days at a time with just an iPod Touch and a family size bottle of Fanta. Belle is not so easily amused. What I need to do is encourage her to take an interest in cooking – maybe I could do something Wholesome like teach her to make a nice cheese sauce…

Wednesday already! The return-to-school light at the end of the tunnel is most definitely visible. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids. Of course I do. More than life itself and all that, honestly. But good grief they can be dull. We are a mind numbing 12 days into the school holidays now and I can feel my brain shrinking, my inspiration fading. If I have to spend much more time with them I may forget completely how to actually work.

I know most parents, particularly working ones, will claim they relish the opportunity to spend Quality Time with their families over the Christmas period, but I am prepared to wager that most of them are lying. The single parents most definitely will be stretching the truth. For single parents, holidays are just like longer, more tedious versions of what you do every day anyway i.e. spend all your time doing things for the children.

Because my girls have different fathers, fathers who seem to have completely opposite working patterns, I hardly ever seem to be able to coordinate visits, meaning I get very little time to myself at all. These holidays seem to have been particularly bad. A has so far spent no time at all with her father, save for Boxing Day afternoon when I was with her too, so that really doesn’t count. B has spent two afternoons with her Dad. Which adds up to very little ME time. None in fact.

The complete lack of personal space is beginning to take its toll and I can see and hear myself behaving childishly and erratically, losing my patience and being unnecessarily snappy. Not something I am proud of, but perhaps inevitable under the circumstances. Roll on next Wednesday I say, when both children will be back at school and I can enjoy behaving erratically on my own, in the privacy of my own study, with only Radio 4 to shout at…

Coping on your own as a single parent can be tough, and bedtimes are the toughest. It’s the end of the day, your patience is frayed to breaking point and all you want to do is sit in bed eating cheese and biscuits and watching Gavin and Stacey.

Well that’s what I wanted to do this evening at least. Unfortunately Belle had other ideas. To start with she wanted to sleep in my bed. Sleep has always been an issue for Belle – she didn’t sleep through the night until she started school – and when her Dad moved out nearly two years ago I admit she regressed a little. It has been less than a month since she has been back in her bed full time and this evening I was determined not to slip back.

I can be a fairly selfish mother when circumstances demand it, and by 10pm, when I was having to pause Gavin and Stacey for the fourth time, I felt they did. I had already been delivered a picture of a crying face, accompanied by a tearful shout of ‘that’s how I feel!’ and then a short note, written on a piece of toilet paper, asking to come into my bed. Realising she was not making progress, Belle had moved on to gently groaning with pain, occasionally crying out ‘ow!’

It was at this point that my patience finally gave way and I was forced to take action. Under the guise of a concerned parent, I went to investigate the source of her pain, and concluded that the only way to treat it was for her to take some medicine and lie completely still, arms by her sides. I rummaged in the medicine box and found some soluble paracetemol – suitably disgusting – and expressed my regret that yes, she would have to drink it all.

To her credit, she managed to force it down. “Can I read my book now,” she asked quietly.
“I wish you could,” I said, shaking my head sympathetically, “but we can’t take any chances. You must lie absolutely still until the pain has gone.” Funnily enough, the recovery didn’t take long. I had barely time to get back into bed and load up my next cracker before I heard the pages of Matilda rustling. Job done. If I had been a mother in a previous generation Belle would have definitely had gin in her bottle at bedtime…

As a single parent, coping with Christmas can be a logistical nightmare. In my case, with two children by different fathers, you’d expect the problem to be doubled. Factor in my own parents being divorced, and we do often find we are spending a lot of the festive season in the car and juggling diaries.

I consider myself extremely lucky therefore that my relationship with Bee’s Dad is such a smooth and friendly one – it really makes things so much simpler. While Belle went off to her Dad’s for the day, I was able to spend Boxing Day with Bee at her father’s house, exchanging gifts with his family and sharing a bottle of Cava with his wife.

For some people, the idea of spending any length of time with your ex and his wife might seem an odd one, but for me it makes perfect sense. I have known them both a very long time, I know their families and besides all that, I LIKE them. How lovely it must be for Bee to have separated parents who can be genuinely nice to each other, rather than having to go through the strained and frosty handovers on doorsteps and in car parks that so many estranged parents are prone to.

It takes so much of the stress out of being a single mother when you can get on with your children’s fathers. For the moment I’m grateful to have such a good relationship with just one of them – to expect it from two would be just plain greedy. Besides, if I had lovely harmonious friendships with them both, where would I get all my hilarious and shocking single parent horror stories??

So yesterday was Christmas Day, our first ever spent alone as a family of three, and, much as anticipated, it was fairly dull. It started out well, apart from Bee’s obvious lack of excitement over having to get up at the hardly ungodly hour of eight o’clock to open her stocking with her sister, and soon everyone was in their Christmas pants and socks and ready for some fun.

Things seem to peak late morning with the opening of both a very loud bottle of bucks fizz and the presents under the tree. A particular highlight was watching Belle open her microwave oven. Hours in front of the Disney channel have really brought out her overacting abilities and she did us all proud with her exaggerated surprise and bewilderment.

Then we got to that tricky stage of the day, just before lunch, when other people normally turn up or you leave to go somewhere more interesting. At this point we all seemed to realise that our insistence on ‘staying home to be with the tree’ rather than travelling to Ireland with my mum and sister had left us with a rather long day ahead. I had worried about how Christmas was going to be different from any normal quiet Sunday at home and now I know – there isn’t the obligatory trip to Sainsbury’s in the afternoon to break up the day.

We did get an outing though to the 24 hour garage at the end of the road. I may have been super pleased with myself for getting the microwave, but I let myself down spectacularly by not noticing B’s cake decorating kit also required batteries…