Dear Carolyn: I normally have a great relationship with my son’s in-laws. She’s a retired nurse and he’s a fairly eminent scientist in the environment field, also retired. Due to the pandemic, I had canceled a visit to my son to meet my new granddaughter and to celebrate the birthday of my other son’s daughter. Just as I was canceling, my son’s mother-in-law announced that she couldn’t wait for the big visit. I suggested to her that she should consider not going.

My son's father-in-law told me, in a text message to a family group, to “not be so sanctimonious.” They did in the end cancel the trip, and I suspect my daughter-in-law told them to stay home.

Eventually I will need to be in the room with them again. How should I handle this? I’m not looking for an apology, but I’m also fairly annoyed. My general take is my son’s father-in-law is pretty much sanctimonious beyond all peradventure. Mostly I get along fine with them, as we agree on all things political/environmental, but not necessarily on all things child-rearing.

— Annoyed

Annoyed: Assuming this is still even an issue — is he, or is his remark, worth any more than an internal eye-roll at his apparent lack of self-awareness? After which you resume your getting along fine on generally typical in-law terms?

You also overstepped by offering your opinion, unsolicited, of what your son's mother-in-law “should” do — with the best of intentions, no doubt, but she is still a sentient adult and a (retired) health professional to boot. Does that change the math at all on your opinion of his reaction?

Now add the fact that most people facing these decisions in the past year-plus did so under some degree of duress, and people under stressful conditions often show it by not being at the top of their diplomacy games. Does that change your social math?

Last thing. I may be overstepping myself with this hunch, but I see two confident, highly intelligent people — you, the eminent scientist — who have detection systems that react strongly to condescension. To get along with this guy, you might need to override your system manually, if not completely shut it off. And just in general, whenever possible, always — avail yourself of opportunities not to take other people and their behaviors personally.

My math says that when this inevitable first in-person re-meeting happens, act as if nothing unusual happened. Or, even better, act as if so much unusual happened that an ill-advised cranky smackdown (or two) doesn't have to count.

Re: Scientist: The “sanctimonious” charge leveled by the eminent scientist is just his way of covering up his embarrassment that he and his retired nurse wife — who should have known better! — didn’t “get” that their trip should have been canceled immediately. Kinda like the pot calling the kettle black.

It was nice that Annoyed didn’t respond to his all-family commentary in real time. I suspect other people in the group may see him as sanctimonious, too.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: There are a few good takes in there, thank you.