Family, Disability, and a Dagwood Sandwich

Author: Kathleen M. Cleaver - Contact: Contact Details
Published: 2023/11/06
Peer-Reviewed: N/A - Publication Type: Opinion Piece / Editorial
On This Page: Summary - Main Article - About/Author

Synopsis: Kathleen M. Cleaver writes on the topic of the types of sandwiches in the Sandwich Generation population. The Sandwich Generation refers to a generation of people, typically in their 30's and 40's, responsible for bringing up their children and for the care of their elderly adults.


Main Digest

The Sandwich Generation refers to a generation of people, typically in their 30's and 40's, responsible for bringing up their children and for the care of their elderly adults (Oxford Dictionary). The sandwich generation has grown as couples are waiting longer to have children and elderly parents are living longer.

The Club sandwich Generation

Older adults in their 50s or 60s who are wedged between aging parents, their adult children, and possibly grandchildren. This term can also refer to younger adults in their 30s or 40s who have younger children, elderly parents, and aging grandparents ( They might be helping their adult children financially, with childcare, housekeeping and home repair. They may live in a multi- generational home with their parents and grandparents.

The Open Sandwich Generation

Refers to the population of people who care for an elderly family member or friend. They have no other family responsibilities.

The Jumbo Club Sandwich Generation

The jumbo club sandwich generation refers to people who are "caring for parents with health problems ranging from Alzheimer's to osteoporosis; and at the same time caring for children with autism, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, or any other number of special needs conditions." (Katherine Swarts: Health and Wellness, Older Adults, Tips and Tricks - December 17, 2022.

The Dagwood Sandwich Generation

In my personal experience and opinion, refers to families who are caring for a multiply disabled adult child and are dealing with more and for a much longer period of time than any of the other sandwich generations previously described. When I think of a club sandwich I picture a triple layered sandwich with lettuce, tomato, sometimes a sliced hard boiled egg, and a filling of meat, tuna or egg salad. It may be bigger or smaller depending on the amount of filling but the composition is usually the same. A Dagwood Sandwich, is a tall multilayered sandwich made of a variety of meats and cheeses. There is no limit to the number of layers or fillings that make up the sandwich. The sandwich was named after Dagwood Bumstead, a central character in the comic strip Blondie who is frequently illustrated making enormous sandwiches.

When I think of myself and some of my friends who care for their adult children who are multiply disabled and need total care as well as caring for themselves and other family members, our "sandwiches" are more than a club or a super club. They are Dagwood sandwiches with a variety of multiple layers. As we grow older so do our "sandwiches". As our needs become more so do their needs of our multiply disabled adult children. Not only are we managing our health and financial needs, and possibly those of another family member, we are managing the overwhelming health, behavioral and financial needs of our disabled adult children. Whether we choose in-home care or a residential facility, we are still responsible to make sure they are cared for with respect and dignity.

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Author's sister, seated in a chair, and daughter, sitting in a wheelchair.
Author's sister, seated in a chair, and daughter, sitting in a wheelchair.

My sister and daughter are multiply disabled and require total care. Presently, they live in an intermediate care facility (ICF). My parents assumed that I would care for my sister when they no longer could. I found it overwhelming for me and my family to care for two disabled adults, my parents and my family. Against my parents' wishes, I moved my sister to an ICF. A few years later my daughter joined her. They are very happy there and well cared for.

Moving my sister and daughter to an ICF has reduced the size of my "sandwich" since I am no longer responsible for their care 24 hours-a-day. I am responsible to make sure they are cared for with dignity and respect. I have friends who have chosen to have in-home care for their disabled adult child. This too is a full time job for them, making sure the people they employ to assist with the care of their loved one are compassionate, trustworthy and informed about the needs and goals of their client as well as being respectful of the routines and customs of the family.


Sometimes you can construct your own sandwich. Sometimes you will need help to find the ingredients to construct your sandwich. Sometimes you can eat the entire sandwich, and sometimes you will need to share it because it is too much for you to eat.

About Kathleen M. Cleaver

Kathleen M. Cleaver holds a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and the education of children whose primary disability is a visual impairment (TVI). During her thirty-year career as a teacher, Kathleen received the Penn-Del AER Elinor Long Award and the AER Membership Award for her service and contributions to the education of children with visual impairments. She also received the Elizabeth Nolan O’Donnell Achievement Award for years of dedicated service to St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments.


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Cite This Page (APA): Kathleen M. Cleaver. (2023, November 6). Family, Disability, and a Dagwood Sandwich. Disabled World. Retrieved November 29, 2023 from

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