How Kelly Ripa and Live 's Staffers Have Spent Over 20 Years Building the Ultimate Mom Tribe

LIVE! WITH KELLY AND RYAN - 5/3/22 - “Live! With Kelly and Ryan,” airs weekdays in syndication on ABC. (ABC/Lorenzo Bevilaqua)
LIVE! WITH KELLY AND RYAN - 5/3/22 - “Live! With Kelly and Ryan,” airs weekdays in syndication on ABC. (ABC/Lorenzo Bevilaqua)

Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC

For over 20 years now, Kelly Ripa has entertained audiences with stories of her life on Live with Kelly and Ryan, including the ups and downs of motherhood.

But behind the scenes at the syndicated daytime TV show is more than a dozen working moms — producers, stylists, assistants and more — who, alongside Ripa, have formed a tribe of unwavering love and support for moms that has lasted for over two decades and counting.

"We are really the definition of work family," Ripa tells PEOPLE exclusively. "Our triumphs are group triumphs and our tragedies are group tragedies. We're victorious together but we also get down in the mud together. It's a special group of women who I treasure."

In celebration of Mother's Day (and in honor of Live's annual Mother's Day show), PEOPLE sat down with Ripa and nine Live staffers for a candid conversation about being a working mom in television, the way Ripa celebrates motherhood moments behind the scenes and why Ripa is such an emotional rock for the group.

The emotional conversation is below:

LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN  Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC
LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC

Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan

PEOPLE: Any working mom will tell you, trying to find that work-life balance is a daily struggle, especially during motherhood's more challenging moments. How do you lean on one another to pull through that?

Jan Schillay (producer; mom of Luke, 18, and Caden, 14): These women are my life coaches. I've been here over 20 years and you go through a lot of life — a lot of good and a lot of bad — and these women have picked me up when you couldn't scrape me up off the ground. They're like resources of information. We all have such a shared experience of being moms and working here. They've gotten me through my hardest times. They've been the lifeline for me.

Kelly Ripa (host; mom of Michael, 24, Lola, 20, and Joaquin, 19): It's funny that Jan should refer to us as her life coach because she has life-coached all of our kids — certainly mine. Jan literally helped my kids with their job hunts, helping them put resumés together! I never went to college and that was not a skill set that I had, so Jan walked my kids through it. Without her, I don't think they would ever have any employment!

Elyssa Shapiro Hessler (producer; mom of Devin, 8 and Avery, 4): I am not that comfortable in social settings and when I walk into a room and am uncomfortable, I think to myself, "What would Jan do?" That's the first thing I think and then I just try to pretend I'm Jan and I go about it.

Laurie Bosco (producer; mom to Joseph, 9, Matteo, 7, and Marco, 6): The advice that we've all given each other is priceless. I'll be planning a kid's party and I'll be like, "Christine? What ideas do you have?"

Christine Connolly (producer; mom to Sean, 4 and Owen, 14 months): We'll be texting, "It's teachers appreciation week, what are you giving the teachers!?!"

Kelly Ripa: I wouldn't have sent my daughter to summer camp. They talked me into it! They were like, "It's going to be the greatest thing in her life" and it's still her favorite thing!

Laurie Bosco: There's been clothes that have gone around the office from the Weiner boys to the Bosco boys, and then I pass them on to the Connolly boys. I've seen the Consuelos tag in one of my son's pair of pants. It makes its way around the office and we get a lot of use out of all of these great clothes!

Kelly Ripa: Even maternity clothes—

Christine Connolly: —Yeah, Lauren gave me her maternity clothes!

Kelly Ripa: At a certain points I was like, "Okay, guys, time to decommission them!" [Laughs] Because we really do share everything.

LIVE! WITH KELLY AND RYAN - 5/3/22 - “Live! With Kelly and Ryan,” airs weekdays in syndication on ABC. (ABC/Lorenzo Bevilaqua)
LIVE! WITH KELLY AND RYAN - 5/3/22 - “Live! With Kelly and Ryan,” airs weekdays in syndication on ABC. (ABC/Lorenzo Bevilaqua)

Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC

PEOPLE: Kelly, you had already had Michael when you joined the job, but Lola and Joaquin arrived during those first few seasons. Is there someone among the group you particularly leaned in during those early days?

Kelly Ripa: Donna and Joni's kids are older than mine, but they came here after me. The mom that I looked to the most was Delores. Delores is one of the most unsung hero moms who sacrifices and is a stalwart and shows up and does her job, but like, moms on a different level.

Delores Jackson (producer; mom to Darius, 30): That's so sweet, Kelly. Kelly is an example to all of us regarding motherhood.

Kelly Ripa: But Delores was there for me me on many different emotional journeys when I was needing resources or needing help. She's the one who got me through it.

Delores Jackson: My son is special needs. And we all love our kids, but there is a different element to mothering a special needs child and everyone here has always been very supportive to me. I remember Jan had a friend who was a psychologist and speech person who helped me with my son. Joni has a sister who worked in a special needs program, so she offered me advice. When my son graduated from a college program that was for people with disabilities, I received so many gifts from people here. I have that support from everyone and I feel it and it's really wonderful to have. And now I'm about to become a grand aunt, and I'm so excited!

Everyone: [Applauds]

RELATED: Kelly Ripa Unveils Cover of Her Memoir Live Wire After 18 Months of Writing: 'A Labor of Love'

LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN  Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC
LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC

Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan

PEOPLE: How does being mothers affect the way you produce segments for the show?

Donna Bass (producer; mom of Sam, 26, Emily, 22, and Jake, 20): The fun thing about Live is, it's generational. Our mothers watched it, now we're watching it, and our daughters watch it — my 22 year old will tune in when someone she likes is on. So producing for the show, we represent our audience.

Elyssa Shapiro Hessler: The way that we're producing stuff, the stuff we put on air, we're kind of thinking to ourselves, "There may be moms who were up all night, or had trouble getting their kids to school, and they're home now watching.

Kelly Ripa: We say it all the time; We're fully aware our audience may be up all night because we've often been those parents up all night. When you've been up all night with a sick kid, the team shows up for each other. The moms do it in a unique way; it's this unsung hero kind of thing because we're expected to do it all because we are working full time and we are also raising kids full time because that is a job that doesn't end, no matter how old your kids get. So we do it for them because we are them.

Donna Bass: And Kelly's so relatable, she so beautifully sells anything we produce. She's good at showing the messy, making light of it, and trying to help all of us laugh through it. She is completely willing to put it out there and way, "We're all in the same boat, ladies." We see her as our gold standard.

Jan Schillay: Absolutely.

Kelly Ripa: Jan was one of these people who worked through it all. She was in labor, working, and then I remember she called and said, "I'm coming in tomorrow" and I said, "You can't, you just had the baby!" and she said, "The baby's fine. He sleeps 20 hours a day. I'm just going to come."

Jan Schillay: That's because this was the place that felt normal to me. Being home all day, I didn't know what to do with myself so coming back here, in anything we go through in life, sometimes here is the best place to be because it just feels like this is home.

LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN  Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC
LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC

Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan

PEOPLE: What about during times of difficulty? How do you support one another?

Kelly Ripa: It's almost second nature. Lauren Travaglione, whom I call my Chief-of-Staff, has picked me up off the floor physically and said, "Put your lipstick on and go do the show."

Lauren Travaglione (Kelly's assistant; mom to Charlie, 7, Georgia, 5): It's true.

Jan Schillay: One of the beautiful things, and it speaks to the place that we work, is that we're all very understanding of each other's needs at some time. If someone's like, "I have to do this for my child," we're like, "I'll take your segment!" We're always picking up for each other when we have duties that call as a mom or a parent. You're always covering each other which is the most supportive feeling.

Elyssa Shapiro Hessler: "I have a school concert." "Go to it, I've got this for you." "My kid is sick." "Don't worry, go do what you have to do."

Donna Bass: Kelly sets that bar. She makes sure we have enough vacation. When her mom needs her, she rips down the Garden State Parkway and makes sure she's there for her mom. She holds that bar high and inspires us to do the same and gives us the freedom to let us know that we can.

RELATED: Ryan Seacrest on What Makes Him and Kelly Ripa a Great Team: We've 'Been Friends for Two Decades'

LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN  Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC
LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC

Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan

PEOPLE: It sounds like this bond mean so much to all of you.

Elyssa Shapiro Hessler: In ways we can't describe. One time I was producing one of Kelly's anniversary shows ...

Kelly Ripa: ... There's been so many!

Elyssa Shapiro Hessler: [Laughs] Yeah, I don't remember which one! But I remember leaving that morning and Devin was really young, and she had her first fever. I still had a babysitter at the time, so I left her home, came here, worked and did the show. Well, the show was great. Kelly had a lot of family and friends here and afterwards everyone went to lunch, but I stayed behind to finish something up. That's when I got a call from the sitter saying, "Your daughter's had a seizure. I called an ambulance, you have to come meet us." So I literally ran — I remember running out the door, and luckily got to the ambulance in time. And Kelly had texted me, "Thanks for the show. We're all going to lunch if you want to join us." And I wrote back, "I'm in an ambulance, actually, going to the hospital; Devin's had a seizure." And Kelly was like, 'What hospital are you going to? I'll meet you there."

Kelly Ripa: Yeah ...

Elyssa Shapiro Hessler: It's just like, that's what we all do.

Kelly Ripa: But that's literally every person here. It's not a thought process, really. We're a tribe and we move like one. When somebody's in trouble, everybody's there.

LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC
LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC

Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan

PEOPLE: Kelly, we've been told that you're the one who spearheads celebrating big moments that happen to the kids, sending flowers or gifts and really creating that family friendly environment for everyone.

Kelly Ripa: It's usually the kids. Everybody keeps their head down and does their job; there's not a lot of fan fare here. But in real life, behind the scenes, we really are triumphant when the kids get into college or when the kids get into nursery school — which is a way deeper hell than college!

Everybody: [Laughs]

Kelly Ripa: College, you'e like, "Our kids know a lot, they're going to be fine." But when it's nursery school and it's up to the parents? We're in prayer circles! I go to church, I light candles; I'm so invested I'm calling people like, "Do you know anyone here?" It is like, that intense.

Elyssa Shapiro Hessler: We're showing Jan and Lauren pictures [asking], "Which pictures do you think I should include on an application?"

Kelly Ripa: "Can you help me write my parental statement so I sound like a normal person?" Like, this type of stuff we're doing behind the scenes.

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LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN  Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC
LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC

Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan

PEOPLE: You're also known, Kelly, to shout out the staff when kids are born, milestone birthdays, etc. There's one memorable moment you told a producer to "push" once while she was in labor?

Kelly Ripa: Oh that was Dana Dodge, another executive producer. Yeah, we figured she was watching!

Joni Zlotowitz (producer; mom of Andrea, 32, and Emma, 30; grandmother of Samara Bloom, 18 months): My kids were older, so I was never part of that thing. But when my granddaughter was born 18 months ago and you announced it, it was such a big deal.

Kelly Ripa: Well how about when your daughter produced me? I walked in to do a shoot and this woman says to me, "You don't recognize me, I'm Joni's daughter" and I'm like, "Wait, you're a grownup! Because in my mind, our kids are frozen at the age that I met them!"

Joni Zlotowitz: It was just the sweetest thing, shouting out my granddaughter. I'm going to start crying now!

Christine Connolly: Kelly does that for everyone. She's always very sweet to announce engagements and marriages and babies. My 4-year-old son loves to say, "Mommy, can I see when I was announced?" He wants to go back and see when Kelly told everyone he was born.

Kelly Ripa: I remember when he was born!

Christine Connolly: And I also have to say, she throws great parties, sends incredible gifts and is always very generous.

Kelly Ripa: Just like we rehearsed it!

kelly ripa and mark consuelos familyCredit: Kelly Ripa/Instagram
kelly ripa and mark consuelos familyCredit: Kelly Ripa/Instagram

Kelly Ripa/Instagram Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos with their kids

PEOPLE: And you're the Godmother to Lauren's youngest, Georgia?

Lauren Travaglione: Kelly was in the room when my firstborn came out. She was not supposed to be in the room, but she was.

Kelly Ripa: I was standing outside in the hallway, loitering with Lauren's mother and mother-in-law, and they said, "Are you the grandmothers?" and I said "Yes we are!" They said, "You can't be in the hallway. You can either be in the lobby or in the room." I said, "Well, we just stepped out for a moment, we're going back in the room." And then I walked all three of us in and I looked at Lauren and she I said, "NO!" and I said "Yes!"

Lauren Travaglione: Kelly knows a lot about me but she has seen a lot about me too

Kelly Ripa: Now I know too much.

PEOPLE: Are you close with everyone's kids, Kelly?

Jan Schillay: I can personally say Kelly's developed relationships with my kids.

Kelly Ripa: I love your kids so much.

Jan Schillay: There was a time when my son was growing up when he was away for the summer, and we were worried about him so we knew a way to spy on his cell phone to see who he was texting. And one night, we went to check, and my husband's like, "He's texting Kelly!" I was like, "What!?" He was away, and they were having a full-blown text conversation! And I lost my mind. I called her and, "What's going on?" and she said, "It's none of your business!"

Kelly Ripa: Was he fine?

Jan Schillay: He was fine.

Kelly Ripa: And I said to her, I said, "I hope you know that you guys are all my kids' emergency contacts." It really does go both ways. Lauren was dealing with my kids all day, yelling at them! And that's the thing — we all can say things to each other's kids that they may not be receptive to hearing from their moms. Jan's son, at the time, was going through a thing I had been through already with my kid so I was like, "It's a phase. Trust me. Give your mom a break and talk to Auntie Memaw."

LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC
LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC

Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan

PEOPLE: Do the kids all have relationships with one another too?

Kelly Ripa: They do, as a matter of fact. Some of my kids' favorite memories is hanging out with the other kids, particularly during remotes — because when the show travels, the kids get to travel too. And they'll bond over their favorite restaurants. Or, if we've done the show in Disney World, they'll enjoy the park together. That's always a big show-stopper because they get special Disney employee privileges while we're there doing the show. And then when show's done, it's the scene in the night club with the lights on: get to the back of the line!

Elyssa Shapiro Hessler: It's so cute when the bigger kids see the little kids and they're like, interacting with each other. It's the sweetest thing. I was just asking backstage if any of the bigger kids want to babysit!

Kelly Ripa: By the way, I remember my son Michael used to take Elyssa by the hand and have her over for "cocktails." And "cocktails" consisted of a Dixie cup with soap — which was "champagne" — and then olives. Cut to years later, when Elyssa had her kids, like, Michael was graduating high school.

Elyssa Shapiro Hessler: That's right!

Kelly Ripa: And Elyssa's daughter would call Joaquin "that one." She couldn't say his name so she called him "that one." That's the type of bond we're talking about.

Elyssa Shapiro Hessler: That was just the sweetest thing. You know, Michael's the kind of kid who made me want to have kids. He was a really, really special little boy.

Kelly Ripa: All these kids are all special.

Audrey Slater (Kelly's stylist; mom of Claire, 16): Kelly's daughter Lola and my daughter Claire went to camp together. That's how we became closer friends. And she started to try to get me to have more than the one kid.

Kelly Ripa: I did. I always put it out there.

Audrey Slater: She failed!

LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN  Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC
LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC

Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan

PEOPLE: Over the years, a lot of the kids have appeared in segments of the shows — though, that's been less frequent recently, we hear?

Kelly Ripa: Well before Elyssa had kids, she would make us all put our kids on television. Every Halloween show, every toy segment — we were tortured here, bringing our kids to work. And then Elyssa did it ... what, once? Twice?

Elyssa Shapiro Hessler: Three times.

Kelly: That was it! We never had kids on the air again.

Elyssa Shapiro Hessler: Well it was because you must have had a pact with Avery to spit up all over me the second we walked out on the stage during that swimsuit segment. I swear, we walked out and my older daughter Devin was all feeling herself and Avery, right on cue, [pukes]. I'm there, trying to hold it together thinking, 'I can't believe I tortured myself doing this for so long.'

Kelly Ripa: I literally was giving Avery milk and Pepsi backstage [Laughs].

RELATED: Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos Celebrate Their 26th Anniversary: 'Love of My Life'

LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN  Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC
LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan OR WABC

Courtesy of Kelly and Ryan

PEOPLE: Looking back on it all, how does it feel to reflect on how much life you've lived together?

Kelly Ripa: You know, when I first started here, some of these women were still single. Through the years, you start noticing people dating, getting married, having babies. You're celebrating those moments, but you're looking forward, right? Then suddenly, we went through this weird horrible time when people started losing family members. And when you're doing all that stuff — when you're new to a job and you're figuring out who you want to sit with at the lunch table — you don't realize that one day, these people who you are sitting next to at a funeral and whose lap you are laying down in and whose hand you are squeezing, you don't realize how important they are until you look around on a day like today and say, "Oh my God... you truly know me."

Lauren Travaglione: But I think you can see this is a unique group of women and a unique work group of women. It stems from the top and that's Kelly. Kelly has created this and allowed the inner sanctum to be shared. Not all people support each other like they do there. People don't stay places for 20+ years if it's terrible.

Delores Jackson: I don't think there's any kind of show that has a group like this who has been together for this long. It's a big deal.

Live with Kelly and Ryan airs weekdays in syndication (check local listings).

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity