I recently moved back into my parents' home after finishing my undergrad. We all get along - I'm grateful for the food and washing machine, they're happy to have me home, and I'm on track to be back living on my own soon. But one thing has really been grating on me: They constantly need my help with their computers.
They are both retired and spend virtually all day at home on their laptops. They just don't have the sense to solve simple computer problems. I feel like it's all we ever talk about. (I've started counting: It's about 16 questions a day now.) I cringe whenever I hear them call my name, expecting the next inane question about a misplaced file, or how to copy and paste.
Why does this annoy me so much? I'm usually a helpful, good-natured guy. Is it that I must constantly re-explain IT issues that are so maddeningly obvious to me? And what should I do about this? Am I being spoiled for complaining about helping those who raised me and still let me, a grown adult, live under their roof? I've fantasized about laying down a ban on any computer questions, but all I can see is their perplexed, puppy-dog faces staring from the computer screens to me and back again the next time they're stumped.
I hear this type of complaint a lot - not just with respect to relatives, but also vis-à-vis the techno-peasantry of one's, let's say, slightly older colleagues: "Hey, Gen-Y guy, sorry to bother you again, but I'm having another problem with my computer …"
Everyone wants free IT help. I have one friend who constantly has to travel from his apartment to his mother's home in the suburbs to help her with computer stuff. So it becomes a whole evening: dinner, drinks and a little postprandial IT action.
Me, I lucked out in this department. My father is actually a computer whiz. He was an early adopter. I remember him and my computer-geek brother, Paul, sending something called "e mails" to each other back in the eighties.
(It seemed like a dumb Pet Rock-type fad to me, one that would soon pass - like the craze for using CB radios on family trips. "Dad," I remember asking him, "if you want to talk to Paul, why don't you just call him?" Who knew?) My mother, meanwhile, doesn't even have a cellphone, let alone a computer. "I lived for 70-some years without these devices," she says.
"Mom, that wasn't really living," I answer. But does she listen?
Which brings me to my first piece of advice: Maybe your IT irritation is an opportunity in disguise. Since you've moved back home, I can only assume you're still finding your feet, career-wise. You could start a series of classes: "Cellphone and Computer Basics for Seniors." Weekly hour-long seminars on topics such as "Keeping It Charged," "How to Text," "Attachments" and so forth. You know the demand's there. You could clean up - like that Facebook dude! Though, since you find helping your own parents so annoying, perhaps this wouldn't be the best career choice for you.
Anyway, for now I think it's precious little to ask that you help your parents with their computers once in a while.
Let me tell you something every parent knows that is not necessarily obvious to someone who's childless: Bringing up a kid is an unholy amount of work. There is great joy, of course, and as (almost) any parent will tell you it's worth every kilojoule of effort you expend.
But there are nights when you finally crash at dawn - and it's Dawn of the Dead. You're zombified with exhaustion. Every fibre of your being yearns for more sack time. With terrible gratitude, your head, bricklike, finally hits the pillow.
But then, just as you're drifting off, from the other room comes: "Wahhh!!! Wahhh!!!" You feel at the edge of madness as you drag yourself out of bed - again - and realize, with horror: Another day has begun. Somehow you drag yourself to work. When you get home, there are dishes to be done, diapers to be changed, dinner to be made… and it never stops. It is unrelenting and never-ending. It grinds you down. It wears you out.
And do you know who that was, in your parents' lives, in the next room going "Wahhh!!! Wahhh!!!"? You, friendo.
Oh, so now you have to exercise patience and forbearance as you explain the same "maddeningly obvious" thing to your parents over and over again? Do you have any idea the irony of that statement, coming from one's offspring?
Suck it up, buttercup. Now more than ever, with you living under their roof, it's payback time.
You should cheerfully give your parents whatever help they need. You should also be chipping in with everyday household tasks - doing dishes, making dinner, cleaning, folding their laundry and all the rest of it - if you aren't already.
One day you may have to change their diapers. Just thank your lucky stars you're not there yet. So, if in the meantime you have to show them how to open a document or attach a file to an e-mail, you should do so with a smile and a happy heart.
It is, I'd say, quite literally the least you can do.
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