My sympathies! My mom at least really tries to learn about her computer and has taught herself to do some stuff that even *I* don't know, because she was motivated to learn it. But then something really basic like copy and paste will give her trouble. And it's really difficult to help over the phone because we don't use the same terminology--I'm like, "Okay, open the browser," and then I have I add, "Flamingvixen? Orange and blue glob? How you get on the Internet? The thing that shows you websites?" And I am nowhere near techno-savvy, I just know more than she does. I thought about doing the remote-access thing, but then I realized that would make her rely on me for every little tiny thing, and I'm not willing to go there yet.
Suggestions from this thread I like best:
--Remote-access software--fix the problem for her! (Predicted new obstacle: she won't turn the computer on or do the one thing that lets you take over.)
--Ask open-ended questions and don't assume "mmmm" means she's doing what you said. I would get a magazine or something and sit in a comfy chair and be like, "Okay, are you sitting in front of the computer? Tell me when you are," and just sit there reading in silence with the phone on speaker or something until she acknowledges you. "Okay, open the browser. What do you see?" Read another article in silence until she indicates she's done it. For me, this would actually help to keep me calm, because I'd be focusing on what I was reading, and not fuming about my wasted time. I would combine this with...
--Put a time limit on the call. 15 minutes, 30 minutes, whatever you decide to spare. To be fair, I would tell her this upfront. "Okay, MIL, I can help you with this, but I only have 20 minutes. Are you sitting in front of the computer?" And after 20 minutes, "Well, it's been 20 minutes and I have to go. Bye!" If you feel like she's actually trying you can extend the time, but if you only get through 2 or 3 steps because she's so reluctant to do anything, well--too bad for her.
--I always put screenshots in my computer protocols--I'm a visual learner and they make things much easier for me. Have all of her instructions in a binder and have a copy for yourself, so that if it's a problem she's had before, you can tell her exactly where to go in the binder. "Go to page 7 in the binder. Do you have the binder?" For new problems, make new instructions after you get off the phone with her, and send them to her in the mail. "Ah, yes, you had that problem last month, and I sent you instructions for it. Did you put them in the binder? Can you find them? No? I don't think I can help you, then. You really need the visual instructions to help with this. Call me back if you find them."
--A big "Computers for Dummies" book set. Or, I see DVDs advertised on TV that will show you with video how to do stuff on your computer.
All of these things are varying degrees of work, time, and expense, though. I don't think it would be rude to say, "That computer problem sounds really frustrating, MIL. I'm sorry, but I don't think I can help you with it. No, really, I can't. In fact, I need to go now." One other thing you could do is look around her town for a reliable computer repair/assistance place, and then always suggest she call them. "Well, I think that problem is beyond me, MIL. Maybe you should call Bob's Computer Palace, they seem to know what they're talking about." From your description it seems like she's a lot of work to maintain a relationship with, and one might question whether it's worth all the effort.