I do programming and web development as a hobby, and I have experience building computers, and have fixed computers in the past, so naturally I'm going to seem like a good fit for solving most people's tech issues... and sadly, non-tech issues.

I however, don't really like being non-tech/tech support for other people (particularly family members since they ask the most frequently), most of the time because I can't solve their problem or the problem takes a lot of effort to solve; however, if I can help with the issue and it's a quick fix, it's no problem for me.

My mom is the worst in particular, because she acts like I'm a genius in all tech and non-tech fields, and that I can solve any problem ever, and that I don't want to help her. Examples of this include being asked to fix plumbing, help with fixing cars, and help with fixing household appliances, which are 3 things I am not very good at. Naturally, she's one the one that bothers me the most frequently, of all people.

The main problem I have with her is that she's extremely aggressive when I give her help. A lot of the time, me giving her tech support happens like this:

  • She calls for me.
    • If I don't come, or say I won't help, she'll be upset.
  • She vaguely describes her problem.
  • I ask her to show me the problem or elaborate further on the problem because her description isn't good enough.
    • If the answer is obvious to me and I tell her and she's not satisfied, she says I don't know what I'm talking about and/or that my solution is stupid.
    • If I try to ask her further questions to see what the problem is and/or talk about possible causes to the problem rather than answering immediately, she says I don't know what I'm talking about, even if I tell her I don't know what the problem exactly is, or what the cause of the problem exactly is and that there's no magical way I can instantly deduce the cause of the problem or the solution to the problem.
    • If I try to give her places to look for information, or try to do anything that'd help her solve the problem on her own (now or in the future), as this question's answers suggest, I am told I don't know what I'm talking about and/or that I don't want to help and/or that I'm not helpful.
    • If I tell her I genuinely don't know anything about what she's asking for help about, she gets upset and tells me I'm not helpful and/or that I don't want to help.
  • An argument ensues about how I do or don't indeed know what I'm talking about. I never get to finish what I was saying previously.
  • I leave, annoyed.
  • She tries to figure out the answer on her own, sometimes ending up with an incorrect or harmful answer if she does find one.
    • If she finds an answer, she tells me and brags to me that she found the answer and that she knows better than me.
    • If she finds an answer and it's incorrect/harmful and I try to tell her, she won't listen to me.

I feel like it is genuinely impossible to help her most of time, because I never get to opportunity to finish what I'm saying or doing, and I feel forced to go get up and help her, despite knowing it'll be a waste of my time.

I'm sick of this happening and I'm wondering what I can do to:

  • Make her stop asking me for help, or ask me for help less frequently.
  • Make her actually listen to me and answer my questions and follow my instructions when I actually do help her.

5 Answers 5


Reasonable People make Reasonable Efforts

A reasonable effort is, essentially, to help as far as is reasonable given the various constraints, and to stop helping as soon as it becomes unproductive to do so. Beyond that, it's Not Your Problem (tm).

Next time you're asked to help her with a problem, approach it as you would normally. If it's plumbing and you don't know anything, say so quickly and clearly - "That's not my area of expertise, Mom (but I'd be happy to help you find a reputable plumber)", italics optional. If it's tech and you feel able to solve the issue, go about it as normal - start diagnosing.

Mom: "My mouse stopped working yesterday! I've tried unplugging it and plugging it back in but it still doesn't work!"
You: "Okay, is it a wired or a wireless mouse?"
M: "Wireless."
Y: "Okay, when did you last change the battery? Could it be that?"
M: "It was barely a week ago! Honestly I don't know why I ask you, it couldn't be that! You don't know what you're talking about!"

..okay, I might be exaggerating slightly. You might want to brush that off the first time it happens; you might not - up to you. The point is, when it gets to the point that her complaining is obstructing the problem-solving, you say something along the lines of

Y: "I need you to answer these questions for me so that I can find out exactly what the problem is and get you the best solution. Can you do that for me?"

Point being, tell her why you're asking questions. At that point, hopefully she realises you're doing this to be helpful not to obstruct, and starts answering questions sensibly.

If not, then you tell her "I've tried my best, but without more information from you I can't solve this." - and you leave it there. End the conversation and hang up.

If she ends up with a harmful solution, and it bites her, it's her problem. You tried to help; she was obstructive; no reasonable person can blame it on you. Again, tell her you're willing to help if she'll help you help her (and if you actually are willing to help), but apply the same principle - if she's being obstructive, she's on her own.

This whole solution is, once again, about setting boundaries. She currently seems like she feels entitled to your support services, when she wants them, and how she wants them. Not so: nowhere in the reasonable world do you get to dictate to someone their area of expertise and what information it does or doesn't require. Particularly since she's not compensating you for your professional services, she needs to either co-operate or solve it herself.

Alternatively, of course, suggest she starts compensating you... $150 an hour, with a generous 50% family discount, might encourage her to start being more efficient with time :)


You will meet people throughout your life who steal your time and drain your energy. Their usual tactic is to abuse your loyalty. You know you should be tough and say no, but when you do, they say you're being selfish.

It is even harder when it is family, because you have love for them (which they can also exploit) and because you can't (and shouldn't) distance yourself from them.

In the case of retired people, or ones who do not work, they often have a very different sense of time. They have nothing to do during the day and so think nothing of calling someone for help. Part of that may be loneliness - they want to communicate with someone and a problem is an excuse to do so. Another reason is that they get used to it - if you are a working person like me, out of the house and busy during normal working hours, we never get to call into businesses or telephone our utility companies for help - we have to rely on email, internet solutions. But people at home get used to calling telephone lines for help instead of looking for answer themselves, and that habit can spill over onto family and friends.

For the most peaceful resolution, avoid refusing help, especially to your immediate family. Instead, limit your help.

For example, DON'T say:

I can't do plumbing, call a plumber.

Instead say:

When I had that problem I had to call a plumber.

Show your limits, no matter what the request. If you know someone is calling for help, you don't have to take the call. Reply with a text saying I'm busy or I'm at work. Demonstrate that you don't have unlimited free time to help them.

Even if it is a tech request, you could say...

That isn't really my area of specialty.

... and either offer to do some research (take your time if you do!) or just point them in the direction of someone that could help them. If you point them at someone professional who charges for work it will demonstrate to them just how valuable that expertise and time is!

But of course this only covers how you handle the query. They may as you say become aggressive if they think you are not helping them. Unfortunately, you can only really control how you handle yourself. But if you are accused of not helping, perhaps say:

I'm being as helpful as I can. This isn't something I know much about.

If they come back and brag about finding the answer as you say your mother does, then my suggested response would be:

That's great! Now I can come to you when my washing machine breaks!


Personally it's an issue for me when people ask for my help and then either argue with me or otherwise don't accept it.

First of all, her being upset isn't being upset. It's manipulation and as long as you let it effect you, it will continue. So deal with that first. She's a grown adult and you are, too. It's time to interact like that. "Mom, I'm sorry you're upset. I'll call you later after you've had a chance to calm down." And stick to it. Trust me, when getting upset doesn't get the result she wants, it'll slowly grind to a halt.

Now, she wants to argue about whether you know what you're talking about. Take that and use it. "Mom, it's obvious you don't think I know what I'm talking about. I'm not going to argue about this with you. You can either accept the help you asked for, or reject it. I'm going to go now and you can decide what you want to do. I'll call you to chat about other stuff tomorrow." And stick to that.

You can't make someone listen to you. But you can reject their not listening to you. My response when people ask for my help and argue with me is pretty simple: "You asked me for help. Why are you arguing with the answer?" And if it continues, "I'm not wasting my time on this discussion. You have my answer and can either accept or reject it. Good day." Yes, you come across as snippy. But that also sets the expectation that when someone asks your for something, you aren't going to waste a lot of time arguing. (You're free to ask questions, but arguing stops and stops now).

WRT her interrupting: it's your life now. Ann Landers says that the only way people can take advantage of you is if you let them. "Mom, I'd love to talk but I'm in the middle of something. Is it an emergency? Otherwise I'll call you when I'm free". She needs to interact with you like you're an adult and not a dependent child. And you need to establish that's what you expect.

It's not easy but it's possible. Reject guilt, reject demands, and stay polite.


Here's my way of dealing with this. This may not apply if you live with your mom, but you'll probably be able to apply some of it.

When someone asks me for a service, and they're the real friends & family I know I can count on, I'll simply do it, of course. Also, it's fun and social to fix stuff with people whose company I enjoy. As you no doubt notice, problems occur with the other sort of people...

So here's the flowchart when someone calls:

If it can be done quickly, or if I feel like it, I'll just help. Otherwise, I begin by checking if they respect my time, by saying "Alright, I'm busy now, I'll call you back in 20 minutes." Or something like "Send me an email with all the details, I'll look it up and reply when I have time, no need to keep you on the phone."

Surely, if they expect me to spend time on helping them, they would be willing to wait a little bit, or make a small effort to explain their problem, right?...

I do not tell them what I'm doing, like say "I have to finish my tax forms" or stuff like that, because that would imply that I'm asking for their opinion and judgement on what I'm doing with my time, and it would invite them to decide their problem is more important than whatever I'm doing. That's not going to happen.

Making them wait a little bit and being the one to call back also makes it clear who is going to be in control of the exchange. If I come like a puppy when they ask, they're the boss. That's not going to happen either.

At this point if they want it RIGHT NOW, I'll ask "What's your emergency?" which causes them to have to justify themselves, and fail to explain why it's urgent (well, unless it's really urgent, then usually I'll do it).

When they still complain that I won't do it right now, I then grab my agenda and leaf through the pages, and say "Hmm... so if you're unavailable in twenty minutes, how about I call you back on tuesday 2PM then?"

Then every time they complain, I push it back one more day, until they cave in and accept to wait 20 minutes.

20 minutes later, when I call back, they've usually googled it and fixed their problem, at which point I'll lavishly praise their initiative. Or they write me an email explaining their problem, which forces them to actually think about it instead of calling me, and by actively thinking about it instead of calling someone for help, they find the solution! Ain't life good?

Now, all of this is aimed at creating the correct frame for the interaction that will follow, which is that I don't mind helping them, but I'm not going to take any attitude. So, for example if they don't listen and I have to repeat the same thing twice, the third time I'll just say "I already said that" and that's it. If I get more attitude, it's "You're not listening" and if the next thing they say isn't convincing, I just hang up.

Any attempt to shame me into doing something, ie what your mother does, like "you're selfish" or questioning my abilities gets "Excellent, we have determined you need someone else's help then, goodbye."

This works reeeeeeally well. In fact, I usually have to do it once per wannabee moocher, maybe twice if they're a bit slow, and after that, boundaries are established, and they get a lot more polite and all goes well.

People who want to exploit you are perfectly able to interact with you in a nice, friendly and exploitation-free basis... but only after they realize they have no other option.

However, you're in deeper trouble, since you seem to live with your mom, and thus you can't hang up on her... But you can (and should) use the waiting time rule.

Now let's go meta. If you live with your mom you're expected to help in the house. That's normal. What isn't normal is her attitude, which is counter-productive, as she's really doing her best to piss you off.

Your mom doesn't seem to understand that both her authority on you, and your willingness to help her, are a direct result of how much you respect her... and she seems to be doing her best to ensure you don't respect her by putting you down for reasons that you know are false (you mentions this very clearly in your question).

So, read this, and if it checks out read this and try this support group.

If it doesn't check out, which is the most likely, you can try Gordon's method. Read up on active listening and I-messages. It is very interesting and it will help you. Normally, she should be the one reading it, but it seems she's less mature than you, so you'll have to adult instead! The goal should be to make her understand that her way of doing things makes you less motivated to help. It won't happen instantly, but this method does work well.


The other solutions here are great and may work out for you, my problem with them however, is that they're all reactionary. When you end up in this situation, one or both of you are already frustrated. Rational discussions don't happen when people are frustrated.

Find a time when you're both doing nothing to sit down and have a conversation, Make sure there's no TV or phones on to distract from it. Explain to her how you feel when she behaves like this. When you do, don't accuse her of anything, explain to her how it feels. It's more difficult to say that feelings are wrong than just to say facts are wrong. Talk about how things are from your end, not things she does. You may have to swallow your pride and project more submission than you'd like but it will help to prevent her from going on the defensive.

Mom, I want to talk about how we solve problems together. I feel like the way we handle it just makes it more difficult for both of us. I really don't know as much as you think I do and it makes me sad that you think I'm not helping just because I don't want to. I try my best but my problem solving comes from research or trial and error, I can't always answer your questions right away.

Maybe give some specific examples of what she does that makes the process unpleasant. Keep the discussion about how you can solve the problem together rather than about things she needs to change about herself.

When I ask you a bunch of questions, it's so that I can get a better idea of what exactly the problem is. I know that it can seem like I'm dragging it out just for the sake of stalling but it's part of my process, I ask myself questions all the time when I'm doing things on my own.

If the discussion is going well and she seems receptive, you can try to bring up more specifically things she does, calling you stupid for example, and explain how that makes you reluctant to come to her aid.

The first time you talk about this, you'll most likely have to keep it to one topic to avoid getting the message lost so start with making the process more pleasant. After you start seeing good results (a few days, weeks) start showing her how you go about finding answers on your own and say you think it'd be more enjoyable for you to help her find the answers for herself.

You can apply this to your other "clients" on a lighter basis, once you've gotten this to work with your mother, it'll be much easier to restructure it for others.

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