THE BLOG
10/22/2013 02:49 pm ET | Updated Dec 22, 2013

Advance Planning Now Helps Sidestep Holiday Stress Later

Winter holidays are among the most important to celebrate and with them come the greatest potential for emotional meltdown. Everyone wants their fair share of this hallowed time with the kids and others who are important. Relaxing and rejoicing provide respite as well as a sought after break from the heavy-lifting, sometimes grinding routines of life, especially when the children are young. The cycle of festivities at year's end can recharge relationships like nothing else, especially when planned with care and follow-through.

What's the best way to navigate this emotion-fraught time in terms of co-parenting timeshares? Where do we draw the lines between entitlement and empowerment, between what you understandably deserve and want and what is rational? Think of the legacy you are shaping, a lifetime of memories are forming right now.

Start with a positive mindset and a heartfelt attitude. Once you solve the big-ticket question: whether to share the big holidays (Thanksgiving or Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and New Year's) as parts of days or alternate the full holiday from year to year you're not yet done, though you can stop here and be just fine.

There's another more nuanced approach that may lead to greater happiness all-around. In even numbered years, one parent would have "first dibs" on the right to celebrate the part of the holiday that means the most to them. Though unlikely, that may even include "the right of first refusal" and opting out of the holiday altogether, allowing the other parent to have all of it. In odd numbered years, the other parent would do the same. The parent whose year it is to exercise the time takes what means the most to them and what remains, aka the 'leftovers,' goes to the other parent.

For example, if one parent has Thanksgiving, they might take the children out of town for the entire weekend, from the last day of school on Tuesday or Wednesday until Monday. The other parent then gets to exercise all of Christmas Eve and Day along with a substantial amount of the school vacation, especially if travel is involved. To balance out the equation, New Year's Eve and Day goes to the parent who had the lion's share of Thanksgiving, unless the parents agree to conjoin Christmas and New Year's, which may go to one parent entirely.

There's yet another level of subtlety that if paid attention to may yield even more satisfaction. In the spirit of flexibility and inclusiveness, and taking into account what the children are asking for as well (which often revolves around having everyone together whether it is realistic or not) the parent with the majority of the holiday may invite the other parent to attend the planned festivities. Often it's not that much of a stretch, especially if you're celebrating locally.

For this to work best, try not to expect that the invitation will be accepted or the favor will be returned. On one level it solves the problem of missing out on the least number of 'wonder year' experiences when the children are innocent and believe in Santa or any other miracle.

The fact is the numbers of 'firsts' never cease on some level and only expand as the children age into adults. There are always new first times as we age. Imagine your grown up child's first time hosting Thanksgiving. Who wants to miss that? Only if you've worked out your unresolved conflicts as co-parents is sharing that recommended.

If co-parents can't manage their holiday time together for the children's sake, the other parent is expected to make the most of their time with or time off from the kids. The idea is to impart a sense of mutual generosity, knowing that there's a pay-off. This negotiation strategy is based on each parent feeling reassured that they will have a chance to feel fully entitled and satisfied at least every other year.

When it's not your year to have the kids during what many consider to be the biggest winter holidays, then you could have "first dibs" on the heart of spring/summer holidays, another time for repair, re-birth and recharge, which are Easter and Passover, as well as July 4th and Memorial and Labor Day weekends.

So what's required for any successful passage through a holiday cycle? Cooperation and a light touch make the most sense. Remember, your child at any age is regularly on the move, migrating between the very different realities of your two homes. They rely on your child-centered wisdom and grace over time to help guide them in for a safe landing now, and for many years to come.