As Valentine's Day approaches, here's how the night of February 14 might play out for Britain's romance-starved parents...
Walk into the playroom to find your kids glazed in premium artisan chocolate. Check the kitchen to confirm that, yep, they have indeed snapped the cupboard lock, found, scoffed and smeared your gift-wrapped Godiva truffles, and fed the cognac liqueurs to the dog. By way of compensation, present your lover with a Curly Wurly.
Invite your long-suffering partner to slip into a restorative and romantic bath – only to evacuate when a sinister shape is spotted floating amongst the rose-petals (proudly confirmed by your dripping four-year-old as: "Poo!"). Blow out the Jo Malone Wild Fig scented candles, take down the wind chimes and fetch the spare sieve, while your long-suffering partner has a shower instead.
Momentarily feel sexy and alive when you spot two Valentine's cards bearing your name – only to discover that the second one is from your children, and features an obscene crayon portrait of you with a massive arse. Cheers, kids.
Doll up for your big night out. By this point, your kids are getting suspicious, prowling around your bedroom like feral cats, wondering why you no longer look dishevelled and smell like a Christmas cake. If you listen hard, you can almost hear their dastardly internal monologue: "The fools! They're trying to make time for themselves! Well, we'll see about that! Mwah-hah-hah-hah...!"
Receive surly text message from the county's only CRB-checked, non-smoker teenage babysitter to say that she's double-booked. Call your parents and beg them to bring over their M&S Dine In For Two deal, while noting from their breathless giggling down the line that they have a better sex life than you.
Arrive at pre-booked posh restaurant seven minutes late, due to unfortunate incident involving drain cover and seldom-used Louboutin heels. Realise that this is the first time you've been in a restaurant after nightfall since 2008.
Take your seats, only to find the restaurant is a mobile-reception black-hole. Apologise to snooty maître de, retrieve coat and walk the streets with your Samsung held aloft, finally clambering onto a bus shelter to text your parents the restaurant's landline, GPS coordinates and grid reference.
Come to the realisation that without the conversational bedrock of bollocking your children, you and your partner have lost the art of adult conversation. Settle for saying "This is nice" at 10-second intervals, and staring wistfully at 20-something newlyweds feeding each other oysters.
Inhale your starter through force of habit, forgetting that this evening – for one night only – you won't have to throw down your cutlery to accompany a cloth-touching four-year-old to the toilet.
Amidst the candles and murmured conversation, realise just how exhausted you are. While your partner is raving about the fettucine alfredo, all you can think about is how that olive ciabatta would make an amazing pillow.
Think to yourself how strange it feels to eat upright at an actual table wearing clothes, rather than on a stained sofa, with your legs tucked under your Slanket, like an overgrown cat.
Get interrupted by snooty maître de holding the restaurant's landline phone (this doesn't look good). Pick up to be told that the kids "won't settle". With a sigh, start the extrication process, abandoning a table of untouched Michelin-starred mains, scattering tenners like confetti and apologising profusely. En route, pick up a KFC Deluxe Boneless Feast, featuring such noted aphrodisiacs as popcorn chicken and lukewarm baked beans.
Arrive home covered in chicken grease, to find your kids wedged between your parents on the sofa, chuckling at All Star Mr & Mrs, the very picture of health. Upon seeing you, they'll pull a theatrical death's-door face and force a few coughs, before forgetting and performing an impromptu can-can.
Silence in the house at last. With a sinking feeling, remember that you should probably have sex. Pull your clothes off with all the enthusiasm of someone preparing for a prostate examination, and with the last dregs of your energy, throw your partner down onto the bed in what you hope passes for animal lust. Only to hear the muffled squeak of a teddy left under the covers.
Screech to a halt mid-coitus when you spot your youngest child stood gaping at the bedroom doorway, wearing the same expression of curious horror they get when watching Animal Planet. Realise that you need to think of some explanation for this grim spectacle, and settle for a not-entirely convincing one: "Hello darling! Mummy and Daddy are wrestling...".
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