10/01/2013 02:57 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2013

Start Holiday Planning Now!

School just started a couple of weeks ago, and Halloween is still a few weeks away. But smart divorced couples with children start planning now for the holiday season. This is especially important if last year's schedule didn't work very well. The kids will start getting anxious about a possible repeat as soon as the holiday decorations show up at the mall. Even if things did go well, the kids are a year older or circumstances may have changed. Plans may need to change as well. The best gift parents can give the kids is a well-planned, relaxed and joyful holiday season.

Who goes where when is a perennial issue for many divorced families. Maybe that was settled long ago in the divorce decree but the kids still need to be told what to expect this year. If there are any feelings of resentment about the schedule, wise parents keep it to themselves. By all means, tell them you'll miss them if it's not your year to have them with you but it's not fair to make them feel guilty for going to the other home.

If the schedule needs to be negotiated, call or meet with the other parent and get things settled by the end of October. Even if you think that you don't need to, make that call to be sure you are on the same page. A November 1 deadline gives you a few weeks before Thanksgiving to figure out travel arrangements, to arrange holiday visits with other relatives, and to help the children have reasonable expectations for the season.

Do work your schedules around the kids' special events whenever you can. Often children are involved in holiday concerts, shows and parties. They don't want to be left out. They don't want to let their friends down. Giving up one of "your days" during the holiday season so they can participate in an event that has meaning for them pays off big in terms of kid happiness.

Focus on making the children's holiday with you, whenever it happens, meaningful and happy. Many divorced parents develop a special tradition a week in advance of the holiday for the years when their kids will spend the actual holiday "day" at their other parent's home. If you have the actual day of the holiday this year, make room for the kids to call their other parent to give him or her holiday wishes if it would be well-received. Assuming that their connection with their other parent is generally healthy, one of the other best gifts a parent can give kids is support for that relationship.

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