“What do you want for Christmas?” My reply: “Nothing. Please, nothing.” And don’t get my kids anything either.

I’d love to claim some noble reason. Really, I would. However, the truth is actually rather selfish…and yet not.

We just finished moving (ok, there’s STILL things in our old house, somehow). It’s amazing how things accumulate. I’m not as bad as the hoarding show on TV but I still have a lot of stuff and I don’t want to move more stuff in the future! So, please, don’t give my kids or me a lot of unnecessary things.

There’s my selfish motive. And now for my not-so-selfish motive.

I read an article years ago about giving kids experiences rather than “stuff.” I really love this concept but getting others to understand and accept it is REALLY DIFFICULT.

As a parent, I want my kids to build positive memories. As a coach, I want sportsmanship and teamwork. As a therapist, I want empathy and kindness.

“Stuff” doesn’t provide these characteristics. Usually, it’s some degree of the opposite: entitlement, selfishness, jealousy…and so on.

As a parent, I get to give my children things throughout the year. We aren’t rich, by any means, but we aren’t deprived, either. If they need new clothes because they’ve outgrown their others, I buy new clothes. If they need a snack, we have snack foods (and they aren’t always the healthiest, I admit).

However, what gets me as a parent is the cost of experience.

We take several trips during a year. This year, we were fortunate to take more “big” trips than in the past. We sent our daughter to Maryland for three weeks to live with her aunt (I think that was probably more of an “experience” for me, Mom). Our children go to the lake, zoo, aquarium, snow skiing, and play ball. Whatever we can to give them different experiences.

We try to take many cheaper options: taking food along, snacks, using our own equipment instead of renting, etc. But the truth is, things still cost a lot. What I’ve proposed, and keep trying to convince others of, is helping to pay for the cost of event or items for that specific event. For example, if the kid needs a new ball glove, go for it. Or pay for their ball season.

Like I said, though, convincing others of this is difficult. People like to GIVE. It makes them feel good about themselves. It’s kind. It warms the heart.

So to start our mission of asking family/friends to help with throughout-the-year experiences, we decided to start doing it ourselves. We asked our goddaughter what she wanted to DO. She gave us several options, one which was taking an archery class. As my husband is just getting into archery himself, this is what we chose to pay for. We’ll send her parents a check for the amount of the class, rather than buying her something that “just takes up space.”

Admittedly, it’s different for everyone and we’re still giving “stuff” to people. We try to be selective and give something that we are certain they will use, but it doesn’t always work that way.

And while our children will receive “stuff” gifts, mostly because it’s hard to break old habits, we’re trying to embrace more experiences and show more love and appreciation for them.

And, maybe, just maybe, it’s working. This year, my 4-year-old simply asked “For Christmas, can I have a tree with lights? Please?”

Jessica McCaslin

Jessica is a mom who is working outside the home part-time and who is learning to cope with the ever-changing daily challenges of full-time parenthood. She graduated with her Master's degree in community counseling from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2005, and works with a diverse mental health population. Jessica resides in Central Nebraska with her husband and four children on the family ranch.