Childhood Unplugged Features Jeremy and Ashley Parsons with We Are The Parsons

I came across the Parsons through a Don’t Give Up story that you can watch here. I remember it impacting me profoundly. I needed more. I wanted to learn more about these artists, and I did. They offered a class through The Define School called Around The Table. It was through this class that I learned more about how important it is to keep our photographs uncensored. To allow our images to tell the true story. Our paths have continued to cross over the past couple of years and I am completely honored to be featuring them here on Childhood Unplugged today. So without further ado…

Welcome Jeremy and Ashley!  Could you share briefly about yourselves for our readers?

Thank you so much for hosting our thoughts and images in this special place, the pleasure is all ours! 

We are a couple of dreamers and makers who live, love, and raise three wonderful boys (and six chickens) in a 130 year old home on an oversized lot in the midwest United States. We’ve been married for fifteen years, professional photographers for ten of those, and we count ourselves really privileged to be able to run our own business and do what we love for a living. Most of our photography work involves shooting weddings all over the world, or telling stories of motherhood with Ash’s latest project . We are also a bit strange in the sense that we have been off of social media for about a year and three months now, and have no desire to return. We podcast about our social media hiatus on iTunes at The Boredom Experiment, and this project is a family event, so that’s been really fun. Jeremy grew up a pastor’s kid climbing mountains with his dad in Colorado. His secret superpowers are that he lifts things and builds things. I (Ash) grew up as a missionary kid learning to ride my bike on the red dirt roads in Africa. My secret superpowers include playing with words in a little trailer in our back yard and homemaking.

It is no secret that I completely admire the both of you as artists and what you are constantly trying to say through your art. Share with us a bit about the message you all are trying to get out to others.

Thank you for that admiration and encouragement! We could be silly and pretend we don’t care, but it honestly makes a huge difference to us when others connect to the work we are giving our lives to, so thank you. That being said, we can only offer others what we ourselves already have. As people still in process, we spend our days trying to wrap our minds around the Love of God and openness to the supernatural, embracing reality over the illusion of perfection, and the cultivation of meaning. It is our hope that, as we gradually learn these more, we share them and impart them to others through all we make and do. 

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It has been over a year now that the both of you vacated social media. What has been the most evident change you have seen because of this in your family life? In the boys? Share with us when you ‘knew’ it was time.

Good gracious, it’s all been so huge and evident and different. Because social media usage is so pervasive, and our online personas are still being developed or processed in our minds even when the apps are turned off, every aspect of our lives was reclaimed when we walked away. EVERYTHING was touched – from what we thought about while brushing our teeth or sitting on the toilet, to the way we became more present in our relationships, to the renewed focus we had in our work, to the creativity that was birthed out of the boring lulls in the day. Spirituality, physicality, emotional empathy, and mental awareness all seem to be reclaimed in new and vital ways. 

Our boys have displayed breathtaking emotional and mental growth and the ability to share deep, open, creative thoughts at any given moment. It turns out we are all hardwired with the same basic request: “if you give me your undivided attention, I won’t keep any part of myself hidden from you.” So our 11 and 12 year old boys have become our close friends and creative playmates. Our five year old has become so much more verbal, less emotionally volatile, and more empathetic than any 5 year old we’ve ever known. It turns out when you engage your children more than your phone, they become more like you. We used to be detached and distracted, so they did all they could to follow that example. Now we are more available and present, and they follow suit. 

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Do you have an all time favorite personal image? If so, please share with us and tell us why you hold it so dear to your heart.

I love that you asked this question, because it’s usually how we lead into our workshops, mentor sessions, and online classes. We do have a select few images that mean so much to us. Many of those are of the time when my (Ash) dad was still with us, in the final year of his life while he battled cancer. 

But I will say that most recently our favorite image would have to be one of our youngest son, Zion, from this past month’s family trip to the lake house where we vacation. We spent a full week “unplugged”, with no cell service and no devices. We fished and swam and went on canoes and played and ate until we passed out with happy exhaustion at the end of each day. We had no idea that, two days later Zion would be admitted to the ICU and stay in the hospital for one week for health complications due to very scary and disruptive seizures. With his medical needs being ongoing and his case being pretty critical at times, we look back at this image of him, naked beside the lake and fully alive, and we thank God for the beautiful ignorance we all reveled in.. none of us knew what was coming, and I’m glad for that. 

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It’s Saturday morning. No schedule to follow. The day is open for adventure. How would that day look like for your family?

Adventure is a loaded word these days. With all the talk about wanderlust and the countless bio’s that start with “I’m passionate about travel..”, our family sits on the other end of the spectrum. Maybe it’s because we’ve gotten to travel a lot for work, and maybe it’s because many Saturdays are taken up with work (weddings) so the bloom is off the rose. But nothing brings us more joy on a free Saturday than staying home. 

Jeremy has been bringing me coffee almost every morning since we got married. We sit on the front porch and sip together and prepare for whatever the day will hold. Typically that includes donuts and watching the chickens graze in the yard. It includes the daily drudges like never-ending laundry and telling the boys that, “if I step on ONE MORE LEGO…”. It includes yard work and boys running through the sprinkler to cool down. This charming little part of the town we live in has an old town square, so we often walk to the square to get a treat or to eat lunch. We renew, return or check out library books and we all have some quiet time to get into our new books. If we’re lucky, one or more of us gets a nap. Then we end the day by making dinner, listening to music, drinking wine (just grown ups), and taking a walk through the cemetery at the end of our street. The boys ride bikes and we hold hands and talk about life and death and how beautiful the sunset is.  

Is there any technology that the boys still get to use? Hand held games, computers, movies, etc.? If so, are there any rules you all put into place? There is no right or wrong answer. 

We got rid of our TV five years ago and never looked back. Although they were growing up in the home of two artist parents with plenty of time to create and make, our boys lacked ingenuity and all of their drawings, stories, and jokes were from some TV show they had watched. We gave the TV away and decided to live a more creative, active, boring, and intentional life together as a family. We still have computers and devices for work and our boys were given Nintendo DS from their grandmother a couple of years ago. 

Our kiddos are given screen time on the weekends, for1 hour per weekend day. This screen time is not granted if it’s light out, if the weather is good, or if they don’t ask for it. I’ve noticed lately that, if I don’t mention it, sometimes the entire weekend passes and they forget to ask for it. They get caught up in a chess game with one another or writing and illustrating their own comic books, taking care of the chickens, playing at the baseball diamond down the street, or just laying around reading and playing with legos. It’s been beautiful to see our family wean off of technology increasingly more. We don’t even have a dishwasher anymore, in hopes that the time spent slowing down and getting our hands dirty will lead to free space to think and daydream. We will never regret the extra time we’ve had being each other’s friends and playmates simply because there wasn’t a huge black rectangle in our family room, demanding we look at it. 

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Your podcast ‘The Boredom Experiment’ has been a new adventure for your family during your social media hiatus. Tell us a bit about it. Is this something you all are going to continue?

Our podcast, The Boredom Experiment has been such blast! (If anyone here reading hasn’t heard it, go to iTunes, search for “the boredom experiment” and listen to the episodes!! Each one is pretty short and our kids involvement in the project has made it even more winsome and fun). We have fun plans to continue it now that the “one year off social media” is turning into two! 

Podcasting has been a wild and wonky adventure for us, and continues to be. The art form of editing sound and telling a story with no images, especially for people like us who make images for a living, has been a wonderful challenge. More than that, it’s really a joy to look back at the reasons we left social media, hear our kids voices and their perspective from a year ago, and to remind ourselves that the path we are on is worth it. 

I know for now you are still off of social media even though the year is up. This must have been a hard decision to make, or maybe it wasn’t? What made you decide to stay off… still?

I’m going to be completely honest .. sometimes this no social media thing just plain sucks. In the words of one of our good friends, “you have to come back, it’s just where everybody is right now. It’s the hot place to be if you have a business or want to get people interested in you, and you’re missing out.” Or in the words of some of our other closest friends, “We are really worried that if you don’t come back to social media, everybody is going to forget you even existed.” Pretty convincing arguments, right? I mean, who raises their hand if I ask, “do you want everyone to forget about you? do you want to miss out on all important career and relational opportunities that exist?” Nobody wants that. We all have a drive and desire to be connected and be remembered. It’s just that we believe social media is not the place we all have been coerced into thinking it is. It’s a virtual reality. It’s a hyperreality. It’s a place where the best, most curated, most impressive version of yourself can be shown and graded by a jury of your digital peers. It’s so mentally engaging we found it almost impossible to be truly authentic, connected, original, flesh and blood, look you in the eyes and offer you something, real human beings. 

So what made us decide to stay off? A million little and big things, not the least of which was our kids. We are teaching our kids how to be truly human. When they start to leave our home in six years, we want to 1. have as few regrets  as possible about what we gave them of ourselves, 2. feel as though we have prepared them to be authentic, loving, and connected people in a world of increasing disconnection, and 3. have given them the gift of true creativity and ingenuity, of swimming upstream against cultural trends, of asking “why” instead of blending into the status quo, and of spending their time and energy on things that bring them life instead of depletes them. 

That’s another reason why we can’t picture going back.. It all turned out to be smoke and mirrors… the very platforms we thought were bringing us life, connection, and creativity were actually depleting all of those resources. After we left, our business didn’t suffer, our relationships didn’t suffer, our finances didn’t suffer, our home life didn’t suffer, our creativity didn’t suffer, our spiritual growth didn’t suffer, our hopes for the future didn’t suffer. Everything, everything, everything has gotten better, not worse. So why are we staying away? Well, “if it ain’t broke…”

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This year I completed your 10-day detox program from social media. It was eye opening and has structured the way I handle social media even today. I think as adults we forget that we too need to unplug. It is so very healthy for us. Tell us a bit about the program and the response you have received from others who have completed it.

We were so honored and glad to see that you participated in the 10 day re-set. As soon as we began the year off and the podcast, we heard from so many individuals the same kind of thing, “I wish so badly I could do this for myself. But I just can’t. Taking a year off feels paralyzing for me.” I can’t blame them. This is our path, but that doesn’t mean it’s everybody else’s. Sure, some people have been inspired to quit as well, and we are happy to hear the changes it brings about in their lives. But for everyone else, we wanted to offer an experience where they could at least “detox” and cleanse out their creative spirit. We found that even the first ten days of our own detox were so powerful and effective that we would love to guide others through that experience. So, about six or eight months into our year off, I wrote re-set – 10 days of guided meditations, questions, and assignments for any creative person who wishes to push the re-set button on their creative life. 

The response has been so beautiful and overwhelming. Keep in mind that I can’t advertise about it on social media, (oh, the irony!) so the people who have found out about it are either on our mailing list or just hearing about it from their close friends. I love that new business ideas and creative projects are coming from the re-set. I love that people are reconnecting to their families, getting rid of things that didn’t work for them and reinventing themselves. I love that I now have a new community of friends who know what it is like to take ten days away from social media, and just how healthy that is for all of us. And I would invite anyone here to join in and see what it does for you. Every experience is so unique and different, but everyone comes away feeling renewed in some sense, and I love that.

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To learn more about We Are The Parsons you can follow them here.


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