Little People in a Big World
Since the debut of their hit TLC reality series, Little People, Big World, America has fallen in love with Matt, Amy and their kids, Jeremy, Zach, Molly and Jacob.
There are 200 different types of dwarfism, and Matt was born with what's called diastrophic dwarfism. "It comes with a lot of cartilage and joint deformities, and so my hips and my knees and my fingers don't work properly," he says. "Our heads are well proportioned, but we all have funny-looking hands and legs that aren't straight, typically, but we're very capable and usually most diastrophics have good ability to adapt."
Amy, who was born with achondroplasia dwarfism—the most common form of short-limbed dwarfism—says becoming a mom was always her biggest dream. "Most people may assume that little people will have dwarf babies. That's not always the case," she says.
In fact, three of the four Roloff kids are average size. Twins Jeremy and Zach are the oldest Roloffs, but they aren't identical. At 17, Jeremy is almost two feet taller than Zach, who is a little person like his parents.
While Matt was excited to film the show, Amy initially worried about her family's privacy. "I consider the home kind of the haven, the place where the kids can unwind and we can just be ourselves before we go out into that big bad world," Amy says.
Now, the family says they don't even notice the cameras—which are in their home nearly all the time. "At first, it was a little weird," Jeremy says. "But since it's been the same crew throughout the [whole] thing, or a three-crew switch-off, we've become really close friends with the crew. That makes it more comfortable."
Amy says getting to know the crew makes the experience much easier. "That's really a good thing because they see a whole lot more than my personal friends, my family ," she says.
Still, living a life with cameras isn't always easy. Amy says there are usually only four crew members in the house at the same time, but Matt says a larger crew of about 14 people hangs around the family's farm throughout the day. "That's two crews that work 12-hour shifts, and they overlap so one gets the early morning. ... They might come in at 8 and leave at 10," Matt says.
The cameras also limit what the family can do at home. "One of the things that's hard is we can't watch TV or listen to the radio because it wouldn't be good for sound. So for the last couple years our Christmases have been without Amy's Christmas music, which she loves," Matt says. "As soon as they leave, we flip the TV on to watch the news."
When the cameras get to be too much, Amy says she's not afraid to ask the crew to clear out. "[I've said,] 'You know, I think the family needs to regroup here and just get ahold of themselves,'" she says. "It's in the best interests of the show and us as a family that we kind of need to unwind."
Matt says he's received what he calls "hate mail" about the fact that he and Amy decided to have children. "I'm not offended easily...but I get offended by people who think, 'Why would you do that?' when really, to us, it's the greatest life experience," Matt says. "I know the rewards that come with being different and persevering through the challenges that come."
Amy says having strong examples in their own parents has helped them through hard times. "When you have kids—knowing that you're going to have a little person—you think, 'You know what? I'm going to do my best and kind of have the same [approach] raising them as my parents raised me.' Be confident. Be independent," she says. "I try and just be the best parent that I can be, and this is all that they have ever known."
From shopping to sports, everyday activities for an average-sized teenager like Jeremy can be challenging for Zach. The twins grew up playing soccer together, but it's getting harder for Zach to keep up. "This was probably going to be one of the last times that me and my brother Zach are going to be able to play together," Jeremy says. "We're all getting older and bigger and stronger, and then he's reached his maximum height."
As the twins get older, Zach says their relationship is changing. "It's been challenging just keeping up with Jeremy because we grew up as twins, but he was always faster than me and stuff like that, so it was almost like he was the older brother," Zach says. "Now that we're older, it's not so much how fast you can go and stuff like that. It's more talking and stuff like that. It's a little more twin-ish."
Jeremy says growing up in his family has taught him an important lesson. "I think I have a better idea to see what it would be like to be a little person because I know more about them and I know a lot of what they go through and experience," Jeremy says.
"And they were whispering about something we weren't supposed to know about," Matt says.
As the only girl in the family, Molly gets a special break from filming—her room is completely camera-free. "In the beginning when we did TV, they went into her room," Amy says. "But as she got older I thought, 'You know what? For a girl, they kind of need their own privacy, their own little space.' So I said, 'It's probably about time that her room is off-limits.'"
One thing he's not used to is people staring at his family because they are different. "Kids always look at my mom and stare. I'm a little bit mad about that because she won't get bigger, so just get used to it," he says. "We're just like any other family. We just have little people parents."
Although they've faced their share of stares and name-calling from strangers, the Roloffs say they don't regret anything about their lives. "We're hoping to play one small part in changing society's perceptions of people," Matt says. "We're hearing testimony and stories about kids that, you know, are no longer being teased at school and some of them are grateful that the show is showing little people in normal ways so maybe people will be a little less mean."
Amy says she's also heard the show has helped average-sized parents with dwarf children. "I think it's opened up their minds as to, 'Wow, you know, we may have some challenges and issues raising a dwarf child, but look at this family. I think everything's going to be okay.'"