Kathy Roberson and her family are new to Mt. Airy, but she’s hoping to launch a local writing program that will offer a unique benefit to anyone who is a caregiver to a person with special needs — from a child with developmental delays to an elderly spouse with Alzheimer’s.
With a bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degrees in creative writing and social work, Roberson lived with her family in central New Jersey for over 20 years. The family relocated to Mt. Airy last summer when her husband, a biology professor, moved from Rutgers to Temple.
The start of a writers’ group
In New Jersey, Roberson worked for the Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities for 10 years, focusing on policy that supports families with a loved one who is developmentally disabled.
The work was personal for Roberson, because she lives those challenges every day. She and her husband have three kids: two grown-up biological children, and an adopted daughter, Katie, now almost 23, who came into their family when she was about a year old.
Roberson said that in the adoption world, Katie was considered “hard to place” as an infant with apparent developmental delays and a diagnosis of mild cerebral palsy.
“We knew there were going to be some issues, but the specifics were unknown.”
As Katie grew up and Roberson got involved at the Boggs Center, “at some point I just had this feeling like maybe there’s a way to combine these two interests — supporting families, but also my interest in writing,” she explained.
A poet herself, Roberson wondered if there were other parents out there who might be interested in writing about their experiences as caretakers.
From 2008 to 2013, Roberson led the Writers’ Group for Family Caregivers at the Boggs Center.
“It wasn’t a therapeutic support group and nor was it a hardcore writing workshop,” she said.
Most of the members, who met every other month, had never considered writing either as a profession or as an outlet for their daily challenges.
Still, the group offered “a springboard into really talking about our lives,” Roberson said of the simple prompts she gave to members, which could result in a letter, an essay, a story, lyrics, a poem, or anything they wanted to say.
The prompts varied from a single word like “ambivalence” or “resilience,” to exercises focusing on three words to describe a child.
The only rules were that the group would be a completely safe space for its members, with no judgment of parenting choices, and a forum for listening to others’ writing, not critiquing it.
The Boggs Center published a special booklet of the caregivers’ written work to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2013.
Moving to Mt. Airy
Now that she has said goodbye to New Jersey, Roberson is looking to start a similar writing group in Mt. Airy. She plans to have the group — open to all types of caregivers — meet for an hour and a half every month at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore (times and dates TBD).
Whether people are caring for aging parents, a spouse, or a child, Roberson believes there are “enough overlapping experiences and emotions” to bring everyone together.
To Roberson, writing about the experience of caregiving, and listening to what others have written, versus simply taking about it, means “we’re taking it more seriously. We’re delving into it a little more. We’re spending time with it.”
While she moves toward launching a caregivers’ writing group in Mt. Airy, Roberson continues to work on her own writing.
She’s about to release her own collection of award-winning poems, titled “Moment of Departure,” about issues of adoption, especially trans-racial adoption (like Katie’s), and the “day-to-day reality and range of emotions — from sorrow and fear to tenderness and joy — of raising a child with disabilities.”
“When we share that with other people, it’s very powerful,” Roberson said of caregivers’ ability to write about personal experiences and share that with an empathetic group, as a way of learning to respect their own needs in a hectic family circle.
“And I think giving the gift of listening to someone else is a way we take care of each other.”
Locals who want to join Kathy Roberson’s Writers’ Group for Caregivers can email firstname.lastname@example.org to express their interest and to suggest convenient times and dates.