When Tanika Ray stepped away from her co-hosting job at Extra in 2009, she was very deliberate. Taking time off to have and raise her daughter was very important and she knew being in front of the camera five days a week wouldn’t give her the mommy-time she wanted. So, she stepped away. But the 45-year-old was never too far away from the small screen. Below, she answers the five questions we had for her about taking a break from TV.
ESSENCE: How has it been stepping away from the camera? Would you suggest all mothers do the same?
Tanika Ray: “Stepping away from the camera full time has been Heaven on Earth during the first three years of my daughter’s life. Truth: Mommying is hard work and it was important to me to be 100 percent committed to the process. That’s the woman I am, I go all in! I now know three months for standard maternity leave is not even close to enough. Six to months seems more logical to me after having the experience. I know its not possible for all moms to take such time off of work, but I do hope that all moms get the time they need to effectively connect with their babies. That’s the most important job there is.”
ESSENCE: Financially, how were you able to manage? Are you invested in other projects?
Tanika Ray: “Financially, I survived. As all single moms, I did what I had to do to give my daughter what she needed. But I kept busy hosting reunion shows for Lifetime and VH1, producing and directing some choice projects since my baby’s birth. I loved exploring other areas within my expertise and though I may have showed up to set with milk spit up on my shirt and my hair in a ‘bad hair day’ top knot, I did appreciate the balance of creative fulfillment while raising my child. It became really important to have my own schedule outside of breastfeeding, cleaning, disciplining, nurturing, carrying, teaching, rocking, hugging, chauffeuring, kissing and loving my baby. It was the best way not to lose myself in mommydom.”
ESSENCE: How is your daughter most like you?
Tanika Ray: “I admit my daughter is most like me in the sass department. She is personality plus. The amazing thing about babies is they come out exactly who they are and I don’t want to mess with God’s perfection, just refine it. For instance, I’m glad she knows how to use her voice confidently to make a point clear but she needs to calm down when she’s talking to her mommy! She’s so dang cute though, I can’t help but laugh. and… I’m not sure who taught her how to toddler side eye, but I’m not having it. It’s hilarious, she reminds me so much of Olivia on The Cosby Show, I’m thinking of getting her an agent so she can possibly pay some of her own bills.”
ESSENCE: With the introduction of social media in reporting celebrities, how has it changed your work?
Tanika Ray: “Social media is a beast!! It really requires one to evaluate her boundaries. I have family that is adamantly opposed to their kids on any social media platform but I’ve decided to share my mommy journey and my daughter is a huge part of that. She is my greatest production and expression of who I am. But if, when she’s older and expresses no longer enjoying herself on my pages then I would honor her wishes. But today, she lives for it.
As far as social media in my work, I know how important it is to document my interviews in exclusive pics and videos that I can post leading up to the air date on Extra. It’s crucial that I promote my work and keep my followers/friends up to speed on my adventures. That wasn’t the case eight years ago but I want to make sure the audience feels the full experience that I can provide them outside of what they’ll see on the show. My job is a blast and I want everyone watching to feel like they’re on the ride with me.”
ESSENCE: What celebrity have you not interviewed, that you’d love to chat with?
Tanika Ray: “Over the years I’ve pretty much interviewed everybody!!! I’ve spent time with brown girl idols Oprah Winfrey, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Kerry Washington, Viola Davis and Gabrielle Union —but I’d love to sit down with women like Rep. Maxine Waters, Tamika Mallory and Malala Yousafzai in an interview. Entertainment comes first but I hope we are moving towards a time when we treat true heroes like superstars.”
Tanika Ray is back on Extra as a co-host alongside Mario Lopez, Renee Bargh, New York co-host AJ Calloway, and new correspondent Mark Wright. She can be seen weekdays on your local listings.