30/03/2012 06:16 BST | Updated 29/05/2012 06:12 BST

Why Being a Parent Today Is a Job in Itself

I'm not a mum (yet) but I have many kids in my life - nephews, step kids and many god-children.

I am gobsmacked at how hard it is to do the right thing for children these days. That is if there is a right thing at all.

I'm a traditionalist at heart and was brought up on a diet of good old fashioned values, please and thank yous, respecting elders and being generally polite.

Table manners were really important - the root of being well behaved socially. At school we were taught how to eat properly with a knife and fork. My mum also instilled the drill to make polite conversation in between mouthfuls of food. You could not leave the table till you asked or remove your plate until the last person had finished.

To many these seem like pernickety rules but they all have as their basis consideration for others.

Now to peel kids away from the multi TV screen is a major triumph for dinner-time. Then to stop them BBM-ing or texting at table is the second hurdle of meal times.

Even when they have been unplugged from one of their many gadgets it is hard to communicate with them.

Our worlds seem further apart now that we share less. We grew up on letters and odd phone calls. They have Facebook and messenger.

Trying to find common ground by talking about a popstar usually triggers a snigger as dad or mum are trying too hard to be cool. Or if you drift into serious subjects like elections everyone groans.

For me the hardest challenge today is dealing with the aftermath of divorce, separation and absent working parents.

It is so easy to look at the past with rose tinted glasses but as a kid most of my friends had their mum at home waiting for them after school. Mine worked part time but she was always around when I was little. Divorce was uncommon then. We all grew up with our parents together (maybe to the detriment of their individual happiness) and rarely felt alone.

My mum would be home after school with tea and cake. I'd sit on the kitchen stool and watch whilst she made supper and chatted about my day at school.

TV was only allowed after I'd done my homework. Then dad would come home and we would reunite around the table, say grace and take time together. Sometimes laughter, sometimes tears, but we had that shared moment most days.

Now kids enter empty homes and make their own dinner. They Skype whilst eating, BBM whilst studying, iPad before sleeping.

So on the weekend parents cram in the fun stuff - to make up for lost time and pacify one's guilt. Add in switching weekends between mum and dad it must all start to feel irksome, bewildering and unsettling.

As a stepmum I have tried my hardest to show compassion and create a stable safe environment for my beau's kids. I get their fave snacks and treats before they come, we keep their rooms nice and I honour their past and their mum.

But even then I see how hard it is. The first few hours are like jetlag jumping from one energy to another and having to switch to being in dad and step-mum mode.

For divorced dads it is so gut wrenching. I can see how all they want to do is shower affection yet their role as a dad sometimes needs to be more of a tough love one. Why spoil the weekend reprimanding or correcting behaviour? I don't blame them.

As I said I'm not a mum, yet. And so I could never dare to suggest a solution. I do see though the few couples that are brilliant parents. Some are together and some are divorced.

They are the courageous ones who confront problems before they start to fester. They are the ones that give up an hour of me-time to create a collage on a rainy Sunday eve. They are the ones who give their kids freedom to run and grow but also a safety net in case they fall. They are the ones who stay true to themselves and because of that they do not force or push their relationships with their kids.

Having created the illusion that all is possible in today's world and most definitely tomorrow's, children need even more boundaries than before. It is our responsibility to love and protect, care for and teach, structure and also liberate.

An iPad will never replace mum or dad reading a book before bedtime. McDonalds never as yummy as a home cooked dinner. Being told off is better than being ignored.

Kids deserve more and parents need to step up and be counted. It is time to get back to the basics of what it means to be a mum or a dad.

I know that I will receive comments from enraged parents who will accuse me of speaking about a subject of which I have little experience.

I was a kid once and I know what made me feel secure and good and what didn't. I can see it in the eyes of the little people I help take care of.

That should be the starting point for all.