This is what Megan Gangl sees as she sits nursing her newborn daughter, Kennedy, every two-and-a-half to three hours around the clock; dust bunnies accumulating on the kitchen floor. Piles of clothes that need folding. Dirty dishes in the sink. Toys everywhere. If she looks out the front window of her Shoreview home, she sees snow that needs shoveling, too.

And this is what Gangl wonders: "What kind of mom am I?"

Here are a few off-the-cuff guesses: Devoted. (On this bitterly cold December morning, Gangl is up, dressed and participating in an Early Childhood Family Education class.) Exhausted. And too tough on herself.

In other words, Gangl, 28, is a typical new parent with typical new-parent angst: "Sometimes," said Gangle, also the mother of 2-year-old son, Parker, "I feel like I am absolutely going crazy."

Gangl's candid and complicated feelings prove that asking a simple question doesn't always lead to a simple answer. We know this because we asked the question: "Is it true, as some people say, that hiring a cleaning person increases intimacy in your relationship?" (We'll save personal chef and massage therapist for another day.)

Research indicates that a fair division of household chores equals more frequent and satisfying sex, as well as less likelihood of separation or divorce. But is it true in practice? After nearly two hours of lively discussions with more than two dozen parents in three ECFE classes at Parkview Center School in Roseville, we are confident that you will not be tossed out with the tree if you buy your beloved a house-cleaning gift certificate. But don't think you're off the hook by any stretch.

Here's what parents told us.

New parenthood is hard. This is not news and we know it. But it's a good reminder for anyone who is no longer leaking breast milk, shower-challenged or warming formula at 2 a.m. to consider giving the new parent in your life a break, and maybe a few hours of free baby-sitting help. Parents talked about bone-numbing exhaustion, unreasonable expectations. ("He yells about the house," said one mom. "No more morning sex," said one dad.) Money is tight. They miss spontaneity.

Gender roles haven't changed much. Only one father was a stay-at-home dad and nearly all the parents in attendance were moms. "We never planned to fall into these traditional gender roles," said Melissa Benz, 31, sitting next to husband, Aaron, 30. "We'd been dating for eight years before we got married and we shared all the work. When we started having children and I went to part-time work, it just happened that way." That way, women said, means that Mom is still expected to tend to the kids and keep the house clean. "I do laundry, everything, and he comes home and relaxes," one mother said. "It's an issue. I'm upset with him a lot. Then I wonder, 'Is it part of my job as a stay-at-home mom?'"

The cleaning question is a hot button. One mother said she and her husband discussed the issue that very morning, after he confessed: "I just don't feel like you like me anymore." (She said she was "stunned.") Another dad also had the conversation with his wife. "If we had a cleaning lady, or a baby sitter, it would free up time," he said, "not necessarily for sex, but just to be together."

Sometimes, it does help. Several parents said hiring cleaning help does put them in a sunnier mood, which in turn makes them feel better about themselves and their partner. When Karen Rettke, 37, and her husband adopted the first of their two sons, they lived in Colombia for 26 days, with round-the-clock cooking and cleaning help. "It was really nice," she said. "It did make a difference."

Alana Howey, who works three days a week, said she and her husband, who runs his own business, tried to go without cleaning help unsuccessfully. "Cleaning is not his gift," Howey said. "I told him, 'You help, or we're getting a cleaning lady.' He pays for [cleaning help] and I never see the bill. Does it make a difference? Yes, in my angst [level]. I still pick up clutter, but at least every other week my floors will be clean."

Nancy Randall has found the Holy Grail: a baby sitter who also is an excellent cleaner. "She finds overdue library books, and recently cleaned the kitchen, living room and two bedrooms. Spotless. And, no, I won't give you her phone number," she said with a laugh.

And sometimes it doesn't. A few parents said cleaning help would be too stressful. They'd have to clean up before the cleaning person arrived. Or they'd stress out watching their sparkling house return to chaos after 10 minutes. Aaron Benz pointed out another downside: "If we were paying someone to clean our house, the financial piece would be the No. 1 stressor for Melissa." Melissa nods in agreement.

Other parents don't want to find out. A few parents, while tempted by the smell of a clean kitchen, resist hiring cleaning help for an interesting reason. They don't want their children to grow up thinking that managing a household is easy, or someone else's job. "Part of being a responsible person is picking up after yourself," said Michael Paver, a stay-at-home dad of children ages 1½ and 3½. "Just because we can afford a cleaning person doesn't mean we should. It seems almost vulgar when there are people without food."

There are other ways to regain intimacy. Or, at least, sanity. Several parents said they would rather shell out for a baby sitter and go on a date than spend money on cleaning help. Randall said that she and her husband each get one "independent" night out a week to shop or be with friends. "The deal is, the washing machine should be going when I get home," she said. The benefit, she added, is that "going out helps us have stuff to talk about, which helps with intimacy."

Letting it go. By the end of the morning, many parents came to the same conclusion. It's just a house. Just dust. It's probably best to let a lot of the angst go and spend time building a strong partnership. The kids, after all, are going to grow up mighty fast.

Terri Whitaker, whose son is almost 2, said the key is focusing on her adult relationship. "You have to keep it mentally a priority," said Whitaker, 26, of Falcon Heights. "You could hire a cleaning woman, but what if you used the extra time to run errands? Cleaning woman? Great. But it wouldn't necessarily affect my relationship with my husband."

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350