Advice Column

The title refers to the fact that I’m looking for it, not providing it.

Mom and Her Computer:

The first question has to do with my mom. She’s had a computer for about eight years.  She’s actually become increasingly less adept at using it during this time. I’m talking about basic things, like being able to create a word processing document and then save it to a specific location on her hard drive and find it again later. My mom basically does not know what an application is nor how a hard drive is arranged.  The concept of highlighting items with her mouse and editing or moving them largely eludes her.

Early on, she learned how to use AOL  (to some extent) and that’s about it. She has no grasp of the basics. None. Now that she no longer has AOL as a standalone application, she doesn’t really even seem to know how to check her email; she has weeks worth of unopened messages every time I visit. I tell her how to look at them. I come back the next week, and she’s surprised when I mention that those same messages are still unread. And it’s getting worse and worse.

This is not just a case of my being anoyed at having to provide occasional tech support to get her out of a jam, which I’d gladly do. No, I’m questioning whether or not my mom has any business even using computer at this point. I’m not sure that she really can learn what she needs to know, but even if she could, I’m not sure who could teach it to her. My mom is an intelligent woman, and she actually worked with computers in the 1970s and 1980s, long before most of the rest of us, but she learned a certain set of tasks with no background context, and I think it’s too late for her to recover from that.

It’s really causing problems for her. She gets so incredibly frustrated–often to the point of tears–and that, of course, gets me frustrated and stressed as well. Frankly, I don’t think she needs that extra stress in her life, and I’m pretty sure I don’t either. The computer was supposed to be fun for her. That’s obviously not how it’s working out.

I understand that there’s more to it than meets the eye. She doesn’t want to give it up because doing so would mean admitting that her abilities are getting more limited as she ages (although I’m 95% certain something like dementia is not an issue at this time). My mom is already depressed, I know, perhaps even clinically depressed, so maybe it’s good that she keeps trying. But it’s hard to watch her, and hard to take answering the same questions over and over again and never seeing any progress.

Has anyone dealt with a similar situation? How do I tactfully suggest that the computer may be doing her more harm than good and that it’s sometimes even making me dread visiting? I’d like to spend the remaining  years talking to my parents, not getting annoyed by a piece of technology.


I recently discovered that someone I’m working very closely with on a project is also of a somewhat activist bent on the issue of “preserving” marriage (yes, we all understand what that code word means). This is someone I pretty much have to work with for the next few months, and I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to react the next time I see her.  We haven’t really discussed our personal lives all that much, and I’m not even sure if she realizes I’m one of those “radical agenda-carrying homosexuals”, although it’s certainly no secret and not something I’ve hidden either. I just can’t remember if it’s come up in the conversation; I thought I’d mentioned my husband in passing at some point, just as she has, but I’m not sure. We’re not exactly “chummy”, although we get along fine.

I can deal with people I disagree with, which is good, since this would include most of the population. But it’s hard not to take this particular issue personally, rather like it would be difficult for an African-American  to work with an avowed and vocal segregationist. We’re at the same point on the organizational chart, so it’s not a supervisor/subordinate issue, and it’s also not like the Agnes incident, because Agnes was nuts, and that involved a disposable part-time job anyway. Any thoughts on how to avoid letting this affect my work while  still maintaining my principles?

3 thoughts on “Advice Column

  1. I’ve suggested this before, and I’m sure the consequent reaction/emotions would be the last thing you want to deal with, but if it were my parent (a very different personality to confront, I admit), I’d say to her:

    “the computer may be doing her more harm than good and that it’s sometimes even making me dread visiting. I’d like to spend the coming years talking to my parents, not getting annoyed by a piece of technology.”

    I’m glad you suggested the wording for me :)

  2. Having dealt with an elderly parent in such a situation, I can indeed sympathize. I’ll float an idea, involving a slight ruse, possibly refocusing your mother’s problem and your quandary, to the machine itself. On a future visit “discover” a glitch in the system that requires removing the cpu for repair (alternatively request that she not use it until a part is obtained). This presents your mother with a period where the computer is no longer an issue in her life, as well as permitting you the occasion to gauge her reaction in its absence. Should you sense relief, rather than loss – ultimately suggest replacement (per her choice) which she would then conceivably decline. This avoids a personal interchange of emotions nobody wants. The overall benefit would outweigh the white lie

  3. as a person who worked with seniors in trying to train them new skills in finding jobs, then called the Senior Community Service Employment Program, Dept of Labor funded. We found that “family” is not always the best person to work with a senior on computer training.
    It usually worked best with a group of fellow seniors who can all talk the same talk. It relaxed the feeling of not succeeding and showed them that they were not the dummy.
    This especially worked when seniors, some of whom caught on faster than others and we would go to the back of the room and let them show other seniors ways to figured out the computer.
    There is nothing worst than a child teaching a parent and having the parent feeling inadeuate because they are not “catching” on as fast as the child. We also found that when the “parent” showed the child what theylearned or even “taught” the child something new, this greatly restored the “pride” of the parent.
    All senior centers in the US offer some type of basic computer skills-this is generally funded by Title 5 funds from DOL and local computer suppliers and manufactureers.

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