The untold truth of 7 Little Johnstons

TLC reality show 7 Little Johnstons has capitvated the world since its debut in 2015. The show features a family of seven that calls themselves "the real life seven dwarfs." All of the Johnstons — mom Amber, dad Trent, and kids Jonah, Elizabeth, Anna, Alex, and Emma — have achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism that affects the extremities, making the limbs smaller than average. Trent stands at 4'3", while Amber is 4 feet tall.

Instead of letting their condition prevent them from living amazing and full lives, the Johnstons prove in every episode of their show that people with achondroplasia are just like everyone else. Their story isn't just inspiring, but it's also refreshingly normal. The family is just like any other family unit, aside from the fact that a lot of their ups and downs unfold on camera. Even if you've seen every single episode of 7 Little Johnstons, there's still a lot that you might not know about this incredible family.

Amber and Trent have been together since high school

Some romances just seem like they were written in the stars. Amber and Trent have a long history behind them, and they have stuck together through thick and thin. Amber was still in high school when they met at a meeting for Little People of America. "Trent was my first relationship, we soon became best friends and we knew we'd get married," Amber told The Mirror. For two and a half years, they kept their relationship going long distance, until Amber went off to college and moved closer to Trent.

The two have been together for more than 20 years, and their inspiring relationship is kept strong with hard work. "We honestly have always — in all of the challenges that we have faced and continue to face — been a team," Amber told Good Housekeeping. "We know that a relationship, parenting, and marriage is a constant work in progress. With both of us feeling that and knowing that, we don't give up."

Amber grew up as the only little person in her family

While Trent grew up with family members who were also little people, Amber was the only little person in her family. Growing up as the only person with achondroplasia in a family of five might sound a little bit isolating, but Amber said that she always had her family's support. "I was the only little person in a family of average people, but my parents raised me the same as my siblings," she told People. "Plus, I'm the oldest, so even though I was smaller, I was always in charge!"

Amber's parents had a similar approach to parenting as Trent's parents in that they didn't let their child's stature affect their upbringing.  "I grew up in an all-little-people family," said Trent. "[But] we didn't have a 'Woe is me' attitude. My parents raised us just like every other parent would raise their child."

"We don't let size get in the way"

It's clear that both Trent and Amber had parents who wanted the best for their kids and who raised them to be confident and self-reliant. Trent and Amber's upbringing is reflected in their can-do attitude. "We have no problem taking on obstacles that probably 5-ft.- and 6½-ft.-tall people would be like, 'Hell no. I'm not going to do that,'" Amber told People. "We don't let size get in the way." The couple rarely asks anyone else for help, preferring to do everything on their own. "Amber and I do everything ourselves," said Trent. "There has been one or two times we had to ask a neighbor for help to tote something in the house but that's about it."

Their determination to be independent is not just part of what makes Trent and Amber such a relatable couple, and it is also what helps make 7 Little Johnstons such a compelling TV show.

This is why they use average-sized furniture

While the Johnstons could have furniture custom-made for their size, they prefer to use average-sized furniture. This can be a little bit difficult sometimes, but they think that it's important for the kids not to be too comfortable — even in their own home. Their counters are also at an average height, and, if they can't reach something, they use stepping stools. "We strive to raise our children in the world that's not built for them," Amber said in an interview with Barbara Walters. While the kids said that they would prefer smaller furniture, Amber said she thinks "they'll appreciate it in the long run."

At the end of the day, Amber and Trent just want their kids to be able to cope in the world and to be able to manage any obstacles they encounter. "Once they walk out this door, no part of this world is built for them," Trent told People.

Pregnancy was dangerous for Amber

Pregnancy can be a stressful time for anyone, but, for Amber, it was also quite dangerous. Both of her biological children, Jonah and Elizabeth, had to be delivered by C-section, according to the Mirror. Jonah spent a long time in an incubator before he could be brought home. Her second pregnancy — with Elizabeth — was even more of a nightmare for her. Throughout the pregnancy, Amber's hips would routinely dislocate. At one point, her circumference was greater than her height; Amber, at 48 inches tall, measured 51 inches around.

The grueling pregnancy is why the Johnstons ultimately decided to turn to adoption to grow their family. They were afraid of how rough a third pregnancy would be on Amber's body, and they decided not to put her through the process again. Since they still wanted more children and knew that little people are often put up for adoption, they knew that they would be able to achieve their dream of having a big family while also helping children who were little people like them find a home.

Their adopted children had some difficulties adjusting

The Johnstons decided to adopt internationally, as they believed that children put up for adoption in other countries who had achondroplasia would have a lower quality of life in other countries where the condition is not as accepted or understood. Anna was adopted from Russia when she was 4 years old. She was followed by Alex, who was adopted at 6 months from South Korea, and then Emma, who was adopted at the age of 5 from China after she was abandoned by her family.

Alex was young enough that the adoption process went fairly smoothly, but Amber told People (via In Touch Weekly) that it took Anna longer to adjust as she "wasn't used to men." When the couple adopted Emma, they flew to China to bring her home. "She had a meltdown when we left the orphanage, but as soon we got home she fit right in," said Amber.

You can ignore any divorce rumors

Being a celebrity or appearing on a reality show inevitably means that people become invested in your life and want to know more. Since the Johnstons have been allowing the world into their home for years, many feel like they are experts on Amber and Trent's marriage. A lot of fans have speculated that the couple may have hit a rough patch, and they're not quite wrong. "We not only hit a big mark with the kids and all of them having their own personalities, but it's definitely put a heavy strain on Trent and I," Amber told Good Housekeeping just before the premiere of the show's fifth season. "We're at a very challenging mark in our family dynamics and home."

In spite of this, they swear they are stronger than ever and that a divorce is not in their plans. "We'll figure it out," said Amber. "We always do."

Elizabeth and Anna are budding artists

It looks like some serious artistic talent runs in the Johnston family. Two of the Johnston kids, Elizabeth and Anna, have been selling their original artwork on Etsy. Elizabeth sells card designs and paintings and has pictures of her artwork posted on an Instagram page. Anna's Etsy store consists of bath fizz and handmade jewelry.

Elizabeth had her first art show in 2018, before her junior year of high school. The show was called "Making My Mark" and displayed a variety of art pieces ranging from sculptures to paintings. "I was always that kid that stayed in between the lines when coloring pages," she told My MCR. She added that she has her own art studio at the family home and that she has loved to create art since she was a little girl, although she isn't always exactly neat about it. "We got her an apron," said Amber. "She's perfect in art, but other parts of her living, well…"

They work hard to make ends meet

The Johnstons have become household names thanks to their television show, but that doesn't mean that they don't still struggle sometimes to make ends meet. Starring on 7 Little Johnstons is far from a full time job for the family. While the Johnstons' net worth isn't public knowledge, reality show producer Terence Michael shared with E! News that families on reality TV shows usually make 10 percent of what the network budgets for an episode. So, if TLC budgets $250,000 to $400,000 per episode of 7 Little Johnstons, like the network did for 18 Kids and Counting in 2009, the Johnstons could make as much as $40,000 per episode. That might sound like a lot of money… until you remember that the family has five kids to take care of and send to college.

To support the family, both Trent and Amber have careers outside of reality television. Trent is a grounds supervisor at a college, and Amber has been working as a real estate agent since 2016.

They think their show is more relatable than other series

While 7 Little Johnstons isn't the only reality show that depicts the lives of little people, the Johnstons think that theirs is different from everything else on TV. Little People, Big World is set on a farm. Another show, The Little Couple, features a doctor. Amber told Good Housekeeping that the family watches these shows, and they're "great," but added that they aren't exactly relatable. "Not everybody lives on [a] big farm," she said. "Not everybody is a doctor."

The Johnstons strive to show you what the average day is like in their household, proving that they're just your average family. "Because there are so many shows about little people, people are clearly fascinated with how we live," said Amber. "Being able to show some of our struggles will be relatable to viewers because it's not just that we're struggling because we're 4 feet tall; we're struggling to raise teenagers or in our marriage." She continued, "They are things that everybody can relate to, no matter what."

They're determined not to change for the sake of the show

There's no doubt that fame can have a warping effect, but the Johnstons resolved from the beginning not to let the show change their lifestyle. They want to show what their day-to-day life is like without allowing their new celebrity to alter their lifestyle. "If all we're doing is vacationing, eating at restaurants, or having parties, that's not super relatable because I don't know too many people who actually live like that," Amber told Good Housekeeping about keeping the show focused on their home life. "We're comfortable showing and sharing our real life."

The Johnstons have also vowed not to get caught up in a celebrity lifestyle, or to allow their kids to. "Life still has to be everyday normal life for the kids," Amber told People. "My kids are not going to walk away from this or start behaving in a manner like, 'I'm on TV so I don't have to do this.'"

Trent jokingly added, "Our heads are already big enough. We don't need them any bigger."

The key to running a home with five teenagers

Like all parents, Amber and Trent struggle to keep their household running smoothly. One thing that makes it tricky is that their five children are only a few years apart. Having five kids is already a challenge, but having five teenagers all living under the same roof is even more difficult. Being a teenager isn't just stressful on the kid, but also on the parents. The couple told Monsters and Critics that the teenage years are "100 percent" their "least favorite" part of parenting. How do they keep things together with five teens and a filming schedule? It all comes down to organization.

"I feel our household is kept fairly organized," Amber said. "One thing Trent and I have always strived to make sure is that each kid is individual. They each have their own likes/dislikes, interests, friends, etc. Therefore, our house is busy, stressful at times, but fun!!"

They don't deal with discrimination — they overcome it

People can be cruel, especially when confronted with someone who they perceive to be different. The world isn't always kind to the Johnstons, but they don't let it get to them. Trent and Amber are raising their kids to know how to handle people who treat them differently because they are little people. "Discrimination is absolutely a real issue," they told Monsters and Critics. "It's not a matter of dealing with it, it's a matter of overcoming it!"

Of course, overcoming discrimination is easier said than done, so they have a strategy in place to be able to do this. "Trent and I encourage the kids to set high standards, face the facts, achieve goals, and do not get discouraged," Amber shared. "It's up to you to educate (the employer, school, doctor, etc) and prove you CAN and WILL do whatever is necessary."

Thick skin is a necessity in the Johnston family

Part of handling discrimination is not letting cruel comments get to you. Amber and Trent stress the importance of having a thick skin to their kids. "Our kids, Trent, and myself have dealt with scrutiny, name calling, and discrimination our whole lives," Amber told Good Housekeeping. "In the grand scheme of things, we have very thick skin and we have to because otherwise we'd just be people who curl up in a corner and never go out."

In an interview with Barbara Walters, the kids said that they are often bullied and stared at in public. Jonah said that this makes him feel "more frustrated than sad," adding, "I don't think they would want us to stare at them."

Elizabeth said that bullying for her started in the third grade with her classmates teasing her about her size. Instead of yelling at her bullies or crying, she adopted a different tactic. "I just say, 'That's how God made me,'" she said. "That's how he loves me."

They hope the show brings them "social acceptance"

The Johnstons are thinking big when it comes to their show, 7 Little Johnstons. They recognize that showing the world that little people are ordinary people can do a lot to normalize them in the eyes of society. They want people to not just be able to relate to them, but to also change how they look at little people. "Our goal in this show is social acceptance," Amber told Fox News. "We want society to look at us as people — as human beings — and people with differences; don't look at us like an object."

She added, "When we went into this journey we went into it with 'this is a family job.'" Amber went on, "This is not about being on TV. This is about sharing our story and spreading awareness regarding dwarfism, showing viewers we've lived a real life. The biggest stigma in society is that little people are still considered like circus characters."