With the holidays quickly approaching, I try to find time to reflect. Before kids, my husband and I were more focused on each other. We used to delight in giving each other presents and would often open them early just because we could. How many gifts I had to open mattered—and I was always sad when this part of Christmas was over. Somehow the magic I associated with the holiday disappeared when there were no more presents to open.

This feeling continued in the early years of our marriage. Giving each other Christmas gifts felt fun and meaningful. Then we had kids—and everything changes when you have kids.

When we were spread thinner, suddenly, giving each other gifts didn’t seem to matter as much.  As our priorities changed, trying to impress each other by spending a lot of money didn’t make much sense to us. It wasn’t just that I didn’t think he needed a gift from me… I honestly didn’t want a present either. If I needed something, I probably already bought it. Same for him.

Our conversations about not getting each other anything material happened in passing. He would tell me how hard I was to buy for since I didn’t really want anything. I would tell him that he already bought something for himself that should count. Since we’d already spent money on new things, we figured we both already got a present. Spending more money just to have something to open didn’t make any sense. We both felt it would just be throwing it away.

By spending less time worrying about buying gifts for each other, we free ourselves up to really think about what to get the kids and we enjoy the holidays more. 

That said, the things I want are not available to purchase in stores. I want more time. A break. More sleep. More time together as a family to create memories. For my babies to stay little, just a bit longer. I simply don’t want stuff anymore for the sake of stuff.

When I tell my husband stuff like this, he knows he has no power to grant some of these wishes—but he is quick to give me a break when he sees me burning out. Honestly, sometimes he knows before I do. I’m not great at hiding my emotions, so it’s pretty obvious. After 14 years of marriage, I don’t even try anymore. He is also quick to agree whenever I tell him I need to get out of the house. He knows that when I reach that point, that I really need it.

By spending less time worrying about buying gifts for each other, we free ourselves up to really think about what to get the kids and we enjoy the holidays more. We aren’t as worried about blowing our budget. I would much rather buy ingredients to make special Christmas treats or crafts with the kids anyway.

Instead of buying stuff for each other, we focus more on the experiences of the holidays that we share with our kids—like having cookies for breakfast, throwing a dance party in our Christmas pajamas and spending time playing games. Because, really, I now know that the greatest gift of all is the chance to make memories with family.

A version of this post was published December 15, 2021. It has been updated.