Melissa Francis was born on the 12th of December, 1972 in Los Angeles as the youngest child to a stage actress mother and business owner father. She was raised with an older sister, Tiffany, in the San Fernando Valley in California. Both Tiffany and Melissa suffered emotional abuse at the hands of her controlling mother who at times would let her daughters go hungry.
In her 2012 memoir, Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter, Melissa revealed that her mother was suffering from Bipolar Disorder, which made her childhood pretty rough. More than a few times, her mother had pulled the car over and asked them to walk home by themselves. “Find your own way home. And another place to live while you’re at it," her mother would say.
Their life at home would always be "in a state of constant wariness", but Melissa fared better with her mother than Tiffany after getting a role in Little House on the Prairie. She wrote in her book, "The day I won that part may have been the highlight of Mom’s life. Our two years on Little House on the Prairie were without question her happiest."