12/14/2012 02:02 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2013

Solving Holiday Time-Share Dilemmas

The winter holidays are arguably the most important season to celebrate and with it comes the greatest potential for emotional meltdown. Everyone wants their fair share of this special time with the children because relaxation and respite from the regular schedule can recharge relationships like nothing else, especially when planned with care and follow-through.

What's the best way to navigate the emotion-fraught holidays 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 your children are forming right now.

When you're sharing children's time, start with a positive mindset and a heartfelt attitude. The big-ticket question is 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.

Here's an approach that will hopefully 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.

In the spirit of flexibility, and taking into account what the children are asking for as well, the parent with the majority of the holiday may invite the other parent to attend the planned festivities, especially if they're celebrating locally, without expectation that the invitation will be accepted or the favor will be returned.

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 holidays, then you could have "first dibs" to the heart of spring/summer holidays, 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 makes the most sense. Remember, your child is regularly on the move, migrating between the very different realities of your two homes. They rely on your child-centered wisdom and grace to help guide them in for a safe landing.