Harried, with children

Women complain about how hard it is to be a stay-at-home mom. After getting divorced, I discovered I could clean the entire house in a few hours — accomplishing way more than my wife ever did — and have all afternoon to do nothing. Men work long hours to support their families, only to be told they aren’t doing enough around the house. I think being a mom is important and value stay-at-home moms, but let’s talk turkey about who really has the hard job, OK?

— Stay-Late-at-Work Dad

It used to be that a stay-at-home mom’s work was never done — and for good reason. Chicken for dinner? Grab your coat, grab the ax, and chase your bird around the yard, taking care not to slip and end up face-down in chicken poo again. Finally catch the thing, chop its head off, and see yet again that chickens can indeed run with their heads cut off — all the way to the next farm. Chase, catch, drain, scald, pluck, and hoist the 50-pound cast-iron kettle over the fire. And then there’s today: 1. Poke plastic wrap with fork. 2. Place in microwave. 3. Push button.

Since I describe myself as “BARREN!” I sought informed opinions about the difficulty of the mom portion of the stay-at-homer’s chore chart. “People in general seem convinced that stay-at-home moms get a raw deal and work much harder than breadwinner dads,” said Glenn Sacks, executive director of Fathers & Families. “Having been a stay-at-home dad with two kids during the years when they need the most intensive care, I can tell you that this is nonsense.”

And no, he didn’t just jam a bottle in the baby’s mouth and turn on the ballgame. “Even though I’m a guy,” Sacks said, “I actually figured out how to get my daughter in the car and get her to her doctor appointment.”

Stay-at-home moms, on the other hand, aren’t saying, “If only I had a nice cushy job like ditch-digging … ” What those I spoke with find hardest is only having the company of a 3-year-old all day, a companion whose intellectual interests are limited to answering questions like “How many fingers is this?” and “What does the cow say?” (Mommy somehow avoids throwing herself on the floor and screaming, “The cow says, ‘I went to Yale for this?! I went to Yale for this?!’ ”). And while the parent in the workplace can step out for a smoke, the stay-at-homer can’t even go to the bathroom by herself. Wouldn’tcha know it, in the 36 seconds it takes her to rush through her business, the baby will scale the counter, find a butcher knife, and see what happens when he sticks it into those holes where Mommy plugs the lamp.

Women love their children, but an increasing number seem to hate being mothers as never before. It doesn’t help that many are perfectionistic in a way men generally aren’t, like with a housecleaning regime right out of Joan Crawford’s crazy scene in the bathroom in “Mommie Dearest.” They’ll beg their husband to pitch in, and when he does, screech that he’s doing it “wrong.” Well, ladies, if you absolutely, positively must have it your way, there’s a single best person to accomplish that. Meanwhile, the housekeeping clash is only part of the problem. And modern conveniences aren’t the solution; they might even be making things worse, freeing up mothers to fret over little Madison’s every move — in between spending hours rubbing her down with antibacterial wipes.

There’s this idea that parents can’t give their kids too much attention, but psychologist Judith Rich Harris examined a vast body of research and found the parental micromanagement approach to child development was based on myth, not data. It’s in peer groups that children acquire the social skills they need to manage in society — as they have throughout human history. This suggests it’s in parents’ and children’s best interest to form co-op play groups of three to five families, with one parent (plus a helper) taking all the kids each weekday. Moreover, Boston College research psychologist Peter Gray found that children make great strides in social and emotional growth from “age-mixed play” — and he doesn’t mean two toddlers and their 38-year-old mother engaged in whatever edumacational exercises they’re saying are sure to fast-track the kiddies to Harvard Med.

Clearly, the essential question isn’t whether it’s moms or dads who really have the hard job, but why anyone would go into parenting without fully investigating whether they’ve got the partner and the financial and emotional wherewithal to raise another human being. As for those who don’t have what it takes, childhood tragedies can be averted with helpful tools like the childproof cap — the one that comes in a little plastic packet labeled Durex or Trojan.

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mailAdviceAmy@aol.com (www.advicegoddess.com)