You may know Matt Roloff from his TLC show Little People, Big World, which documents the life of little people parents, Amy & Matt Roloff, and their four kids – Molly, Jacob, and fraternal twins, Jeremy and Zach – all of whom are average height except for Zach, who is a dwarf like his parents. We caught up with Matt to talk about raising resilient kids, what’s totally off-limits in his house, and what it’s like to be shorter than your kids. – Andrea Zimmerman
How has your height affected your parenting?
Obviously, you’re less physically intimidating, but there’s a reason why teaching is the biggest profession for dwarfs: the relatability factor. They’re the same size as the kids, so it opens their hearts and minds better. There’s a certain vulnerability kids see that I think is advantageous. None of our kids is embarrassed to come up and kiss us. My dad was a huge guy, and I was always embarrassed, like “Dad, get out of here!” But my kids see us and they’re like, “Hey, that’s my dad!” It forced them at an early age to be proud that their parents were little people, and if you can teach your kids to be proud of being different, it makes them more open-minded.
On your show, it’s clear you treat all of your children very fairly. But with your son Zach, who’s also a little person like you, are you ever unintentionally easier on him?
No. What you see on the show is just a window, and that’s the crux of being on TV. We’ve heard the accusations before that we may favor Zachary, but he’s a different person. He’s more introverted, more thoughtful. We know he may have different reactions to things, and we treat him accordingly. What we do not do is showcase equal treatment because we feel fan pressure. [The way we treat him] has much more to do with his personality than with his height.
Were you worried about Zach & Jeremy’s relationship as they got older, with Zach being a little person and Jeremy not?
I’ve had apprehension since the day they were born. Jeremy could always do things quicker than Zach, and he always had a more outgoing, magnetic personality, whereas Zach was more thoughtful and introverted. I had apprehension about how rough that would be on a little person – to have a twin who’s the measuring stick to everything you’re supposed to measure up to. It’s one thing when you have an older or younger brother, but it’s a constant visual reminder of the fact that you’re not as mobile or as agile. We were always concerned about how that was going to affect both of them.
Are Zach and Jeremy still as close as they’ve gotten older?
There’s evolution. Last night I was at a restaurant and they both popped in with their buddies, and they were apart and together at the same time. They do things together, but they do have separate things, their own friends and cars. It’s very balanced, very healthy.
Who’s the bad cop – you or your wife?
The role switches from situation to situation, but we always take one of the sides. If it has to do with my kids’ friends coming over and making sure they don’t empty my fridge, I’m the bad cop. If it has to do with using their cell phones, I’m the good cop.
What’s your parenting philosophy?
To not have a philosophy because it will never work. We believe in freedom of thought and opinion and being yourself. We don’t try to box our kids in. If they want to be neat as pins or be sloppy in their bedrooms, we don’t try to bend them. We’re very much about letting the kids be who they are – and encouraging them to be who they are – rather than trying to make them into someone we think they should be. We also have a deep faith, and we want the kids to understand what their purpose in life is.
If you could teach your children one life lesson, what would it be?
Resiliency. I would love to write a book on how to raise resilient children – it’s one thing Amy and I are in sync on. When their kids are young, many parents coddle them. We always told our kids to pick themselves up. We will always show love and support, but at the same time, we never wanted to raise crybabies. Bad things happen to good people. It’s not fair, but it means you’re going to be able to handle bigger problems in the future. Some people think you can only become resilient when you survive a tragedy, but I believe you can become resilient without that.
How did you manage a public tantrum?
We didn’t have too many of those. Amy is incredibly firm when she wants to be, and if [the kids] step out of line, especially in public, she’d firmly grab their arm, and they’d know it was unacceptable. She’s a lot more lenient in the house, but if the kids act out in public, it’s a very serious offense.
What shocked you the most about parenting?
You can raise kids the exact same way, and yet they turn out so different. You can do the exact same thing, give them the same dose of love and discipline, but ultimately, you learn that each kid requires their own manual. We’ve learned that the hard way, especially with Jacob, who has a mind of his own. That was shocking; we were pretty naïve. But we never say to him, “Oh we wish you were more like your brothers.”
What’s off-limits in your house?
Jacob isn’t supposed to be on the roof. He loves to run and jump off of it into the trees or onto the cars. My office has a pretty good view of it, and there are times when I’ve said, “What in the world are you doing on the roof?” That’s definitely off-limits.