My Mom Needs IT Help Again—And I’m Her Technician

Helpful tips on how to survive becoming your parents' tech support. First lesson: always take your mom's call.

funny story - mom needs tech help - calls sonIllustration by Emily Chu

How to find the humour in tech troubleshooting

Lately, when “Mom” pops up on my call display, I look at my phone, sigh heavily and think, “What now?” At almost 80 years old, my mother seems to have more tech gadgets than I do, and yet she’s hopeless when it comes to basic troubleshooting. Whether I like it or not, I am her dedicated tech support. I field calls about her laptop, smartphone, printer, scanner, universal remote, Wi-Fi network, Bluetooth speaker and ultrasonic toothbrush, just to name a few. Twenty-four hours a day. Rain or shine.

If you have been similarly conscripted, here are some tips from the trenches:

Always take her call. I know, I know, it can be painful, but you have to trust me on this and pick up. She is your mom, and she’ll play that card. I usually get a “Craig, I am your mother.” Plus, if she detects even the slightest hint of my exasperation, she hits me with “I changed your diapers!” Well, Mom, being your personal Geek Squad is a crappy job, too!

Don’t troubleshoot in front of co-workers. Over the years, Mom and I have developed a familiar, “unfiltered” tone when we talk to each other. My side of a typical call starts with “Yes, Mom?” and quickly spirals from there to “You can’t do what?” to “I would love to help, but I don’t think ‘thingamajig’ is a $%&# technical term!!!” Such talk, while often justified, doesn’t go over well in an open-concept office. Your colleagues will think you’re The. Worst. Son. Ever. To avoid raising any eyebrows, take the call from the nearest supply closet. (Pro tip: if you need something to scream into, a roll of paper towel works great!)

Share the burden. The next time Mom hands you her smartphone to “figure out,” take a proactive step by creating a new contact called IT Emergency Helpline and encourage her to use it. But instead of inputting your number, use your sister’s. (Sorry, Krista!) It’s about time she stepped up. Sure, she may be balancing three kids and a new job, but since when is that a Get Out of Jail Free card from helping Mom figure out where her Spider Solitaire icon disappeared to? (I have a life, too, Sis!)

Help mom’s wi-fi help her. Recently, while taking a break from looking out her front window, Mom managed to locate that one corner of her home that has a weak Wi-Fi signal. What prompted her to use her tablet in the furnace room I’ll never know, but she sure as sugar called me afterwards to complain about it…followed by an update on her neighbours. Faster than Roto-Rooter, I was over fixing her network and decided to rename it. I felt “Linda Wi-Fi” was boring. Thanks to me, folks within a five-house radius have seen “Pick Up After Your Dog Wi-Fi,” “Mow That Lawn Dammit Wi-Fi” and “Your Powder Room Needs Blinds Wi-Fi!”

Avoid emojis at all costs. Finally, a word of caution. I mistakenly introduced Mom to emojis thinking they would liven up our otherwise mundane text exchanges. At first, I needed the Rosetta Stone to decipher Mom’s messages. For instance, on one occasion I wasn’t sure if she was describing her garden or curious about medical marijuana. But things turned really awkward last August after Mom got home from the local peach festival. Her texts describing plump, lip-smacking peaches still give me nightmares.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada