When it comes to keeping balance, Dr. Emily Hunter is an expert. Literally. An associate professor at Baylor University, Hunter has a Ph.D. in psychology, and one of her main areas of research is in work-life balance. Because of her research, as well as her experience raising two children with her husband, Louis, Hunter will be the first to tell you that “balance” — or striving for equal time at work and with family — is an unreasonable goal. Success looks different for everyone, so what she’s tried to do is change her metric for measuring success and recognize how her work life and family life actually enrich one another.
WACOAN: Tell me a little bit about what you do at Baylor.
Hunter: I’m an associate professor in the department of management at the Hankamer School of Business. I teach both MBA students and undergrads, and I also help coordinate our human resource management major. So I work closely with our HRM undergrads, helping them find jobs, supporting them as a mentor and that sort of thing.
WACOAN: What is your schedule like as far as teaching?
Hunter: Normally, I teach two classes in the fall and spring. Fall, I typically teach an online class, and spring, I teach normal face-to-face undergraduate classes. I work mostly Monday through Friday, pretty normal hours, although my schedule is fairly flexible, which is the best part of my job. I typically don’t carry over work too much on the weekends or evenings.
WACOAN: What exactly is your area of study? How did you become interested in teaching?
Hunter: I was always fascinated by psychology. In eighth grade, I decided I wanted to be a psychologist and knew I probably wanted to get a Ph.D. in that. So, pretty early on I was focused on that route.
I did end up getting my master’s and Ph.D. in psychology, but it’s the psychology of work and workers. It’s called industrial-organizational psychology. I’m just fascinated by relationships between people — how people communicate, how people lead at work, how people manage their time at work. Just lots of work-related topics that are so practical and meaningful to most everyone.
I pursue research on some of those issues. My main research areas are work-family balance, workday breaks (how people break from their work during the day) and servant leadership.
WACOAN: Was there a particular class that got you interested in work-related psychology? When you started out in psychology, what was your original goal?
Hunter: Yeah, originally just like everyone, I wanted to be a counselor or a clinical psychologist based on some books that I read in eighth grade. I got into some classes in college and realized that I was more interested in the work realm than the typical counseling setting. Although I enjoy the one-on-one relationships, I really liked the research and teaching on the applied side of psychology, so psychology applied to work was where I felt my passion.
I grew up in Houston, went away for college to Loyola University New Orleans, and then came back to Houston to the University of Houston for [my] Ph.D. and master’s.
When I got hired at Baylor, I got hired to work in the business school because my area of psychology and the area of management and business is freely so overlapping in terms of the research topics and the journals we publish in and the conversations that we have, that I feel like I could bring a lot of value from my psychology expertise to the business school, and I’ve felt very valuable since I’ve been here. I think my colleagues appreciate kind of a different perspective.
WACOAN: What has your career path been? Was Baylor your first job?
Hunter: First job. Yep.
WACOAN: When did you start at Baylor?
Hunter: 2009. I was pretty young. I had a 1-year-old when I began and started on tenure track, which is pretty intense, but raised my daughter throughout tenure track and had my son about midway through tenure track. So, did the mom thing even while pursuing tenure and didn’t feel like it was impossible or unreasonable to be a mom and be on tenure track.
WACOAN: Obviously your research is incredibly relevant to our Keeping Balance article and its focus. How has your research affected your personal life, how you’ve chosen to raise your children and vice versa?
Hunter: I’m certainly inspired by my personal experiences on the topics I choose to research. I find inspiration from the daily struggles that I experience as a working mom, and I really want to better help and support other working moms. So a lot of my research focuses on how best to find that balance.
But then, I also try to practice what I preach. The findings that come out of my research often guide how I try to live my life to the best that I can. I mean, it’s not perfect, but I do try to live out the principles that I find are most effective in the research.
WACOAN: Do you have any specific examples?
Hunter: I had this one really interesting study looking at how we get interrupted. How the school calls and your child is sick, and you have to leave work and go pick them up, or even little interruptions, your husband calls. Those daily interruptions seem frustrating often in the moment, and my research demonstrated that really there’s often a positive side, a positive spin to those interruptions.
It’s somewhat frustrating, primarily because it hinders you from achieving a goal. When you have to leave work or leave a meeting to go get your child when they’re sick, you may not reach the goals that you had set out for yourself at work that day. So, it hinders certain goals that you have for yourself in one domain, but the interesting thing is, at the same time, it facilitates goals in another domain. It allows you to maybe spend more time with your child. Cuddling a sick child, I mean, what is a better moment in your life than that? It helps you achieve family goals. So, if we think about our work and our family in terms of the goals that we have for both of those domains, we can better recognize when interruptions help serve a goal.
I’ve come to realize that goal-setting is really important. And we typically do that really well at work, but we don’t do that very well at home. Just talking with your spouse about what your family goals are, being strategic and purposeful about what goals you have for your family life, for your role as a mom or for the development of your children. Then reassessing and reevaluating over time where you are with those goals and how you might need to revise them. I’ve found that goal-setting has been really impactful in the way that I live out my life as a working mom. And that came out of my research.
One of [our] goals right now for our family life is to do our best to limit technology and spend more quality time as a family. My kids are 10 and 7, so we’re approaching that precipice of teenagerhood. We’re really trying to be purposeful about spending time together and getting to know one another and communicating with each other and having fun together. And sometimes technology gets in the way of that. Trying to be together as a family and have fun is one of our goals that we think about a lot throughout the week.
WACOAN: What are some of those ways that you guys like to have fun?
Hunter: We’re a big board [and card] game family. We’re a little obsessed right now. We play a lot of different games as a family, but it’s been nice as my son is now able to read and is getting a little older, we’re playing more adult-type games. For example, we play Unstable Unicorns, a card game that we got for Christmas. We play Dominion, which is another card deck building game.
We play all kinds of different games; like when we go to a restaurant, we sit at a table, and we often will play a game. Maybe it’s an I-spy-type game or a 20-questions-type game. It’s just the way we often have fun.
WACOAN: What does your husband do?
Hunter: He’s a filmmaker. He makes independent films and corporate videos, and he runs the Deep in the Heart Film Festival in town. That’s coming up March 28-31 at the Waco Hippodrome. It’s really a family affair. All of us pitch in and help because he runs the festival, so I do a lot of things to help support him. I’m there the entire festival, I’m working the desk, and my kids even help in terms of stuffing bags or doing some preparation things. This next six weeks is a very busy season for our family.
WACOAN: How did you and Louis meet?
Hunter: We met in high school, high school sweethearts. And we’ve been together, I think it’ll be 22 years this year, so 16 years of that married. We just grew up together. We simply share most of our life experiences, and he’s an incredible partner. Just my best friend, and I couldn’t do what I do in terms of juggling work and church and parenting if it wasn’t for his support. He’s a really, really strong supporter of everything that I do, and he’s always there by my side doing it with me.
WACOAN: Tell me a little bit more about your kids. You said they’re 10 and 7?
Hunter: My daughter, Audrey, is 10. She is sweet and generous and graceful. My son, Andy, is 7, and he is feisty and funny and so much fun. They’re just really sweet together. They get along most of the time pretty well.
WACOAN: Where do they go to school?
Hunter: Live Oak [Classical School]. So they’re really close to [my work], which was a choice we made partly because the location is so convenient. For example, today, I’m going over to [listen to] a speaker they have at school [who’s speaking] on parenting and social media. It sounds so interesting. I’m able to just pop over there for their school programs or to pick them up if they’re sick or something. It’s really convenient.
WACOAN: What are your kids involved in at school or outside of school?
Hunter: Andy’s in soccer, so that’s going to be starting soon. Then, my daughter does piano lessons. Not a lot else right now.
Speaking of goals, we actually strategically sort of stopped all other activities over the last few months just to focus on quieting down our family life, and it was a really good move. We’ve had a really nice holiday season, less stressful, less activities every evening. Sometimes we get busy like everybody does, and it was nice to take a little break from that.
Audrey loves horseback riding, and we might start that up again in the spring. That was an activity she really loved about a year ago.
WACOAN: You mentioned board games. What are some other things that you guys like to do as a family?
Hunter: We just got back from vacation. We like to take several vacations throughout the year, usually different places. We like to explore a lot, but often road trips.
We just do a lot of activities like Urban Air or the skating rink or bike rides. We bike ride down to Freddy’s and eat ice cream, which is pretty close to our house. We get together with friends a lot. We have a great group of friends, families from church that we get together with pretty often. The adults will play board games, and the kids will either play [with toys] or play board games, too. It’s pretty fun. We’re a pretty active family. We do a lot of social time and fun time.
WACOAN: Where did you go on vacation last week?
Hunter: Taos, [New Mexico]. We went skiing. It was like an 11-hour drive. We had so much fun. It was kind of a high-adventure, exhausting vacation. It wasn’t super relaxing, but it was so fun. We did two days of skiing this time and a snowmobile tour. The kids are just as obsessed with it as I am. We’re all completely addicted and want to go every year.
We want to do a Europe trip, and I feel like the kids are almost getting there where we’d really appreciate it as a family. But right now, we probably take six or seven or eight vacations a year, which is great. It’s always like, where are we going next?
WACOAN: Where are some of your favorite places that you’ve been?
Hunter: There’s a place an hour from here. It’s got Dinosaur Valley [State Park], Glen Rose. It’s really one of our favorite spots here in Central Texas because it’s so convenient, and they have this little cabin that we rent over and over again. It’s on this little stock pond. There are lots of fun things to do with the kids there and little restaurants that we love. That’s kind of a place we go back to, but I think we like to explore new places more than anything.
We go all over Texas. We went out to Big Bend [National Park]. We’re talking about going back. There’s just so many different places we can reach from here within driving distance, and the older the kids get the longer we can drive. We just did 11 hours, and they did great, so now we can push it even further.
But they also love to fly. We’re actually talking about doing Hawaii maybe next year because we did that five or six years ago just [my husband and me], and of course it’s great, so we’d love to take the kids. I have a conference in April in Maryland. I think for the first time, I’ll take my daughter with me to a conference, just me and her. I haven’t told her yet. So we’ll do kind of a girls trip, which we haven’t done before, and she’d love it.
WACOAN: When you find time for just you and your husband, what do you two like to do?
Hunter: We like to watch movies. As you can imagine, with my husband’s job, we watch a lot of movies. We like to go to the theater. We like to go out to eat because we’re also sort of foodies from living in Houston. Sometimes we’ll just go hang with friends if we’ve got a date night without the kids.
WACOAN: As far as going out to eat, what are some of your favorite places in Waco?
Hunter: Oh, man. Don’t even get me started. I’m always kind of on top of the new restaurants. What’s my favorite place right now? I really like Hecho En Waco. I like Torchy’s [Tacos], to be honest. La Madeleine is my new fave because I’m so excited they’re finally here. I really love Stone Hearth [Indian Cafe] downtown, even though it’s not very new. We love that Cajun place that’s over in Robinson, Te’jun [the Texas Cajun]. That’s a great place to bring kids because it’s got like the little water area and seating outside. I love all the food trucks, but now they’re all turning into storefronts.
I take guests to Milo [All Day], for sure, but man, you have to have reservations on a weekend night. It is too busy, but it is exceptional. I love the biscuits, but I’ve gotten this beef dish. I don’t know what it was called, and their menu rotates so they don’t always have it. I’ve only caught it twice. Tips. I think that’s what it was, beef tips. The meat was just so tender, but I’ve had lots of great things there, so it’s all been good.
WACOAN: When you find time for just yourself, what do you like to do?
Hunter: I mean, I try to work out regularly. I’m really committed to that right this second. Really making goals to work out three times a week. I usually fit that into my workday time because I found that I didn’t want to take away family time to work out, so I’ve done better about fitting that into my daytime hours.
Then, I love to read. I’m in a book club, so reading is always really fun. My daughter and I share that passion.
WACOAN: What types of books do you read?
Hunter: She definitely reads young adult books, so I don’t often read the same books as her. But we just did an audiobook. We did a Lemony Snicket audiobook on this road trip last week. I’ll do read-alouds with the kids. We just finished ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ and then we watched the movie together because I have a rule in our family that you can’t watch the movie until you read the book. So, all the Harry Potters, they have to read the books first. We’ve done quite a few read-alouds of books like that.
Then my book club chooses really fascinating, interesting, thought-provoking books, and so sometimes they’re long and challenging. Sometimes they’re light and fluffy.
WACOAN: What book are you guys reading right now?
Hunter: We just finished a wonderful book called ‘The Family Fang’ [by Kevin Wilson]. I highly recommend it. It’s about this wild family. It’s fictional. The parents are performance artists, and they involve their children in their performance art. It’s weird stuff. It’s like they go to a mall and make a scene, and then the kids have roles in the drama that they create. It’s just like this terrible story about how as adults now they’re so traumatized from the way their parents raised them. It’s a fascinating story.
WACOAN: Are you involved in the community outside of work?
Hunter: Right now, it’s mostly church. I’m on a parish leadership team that our priest has put together. I’m at St. Jerome Catholic Church. I’m generally very active in that community and serve in a lot of different ministries, but this has been a real joy the last few months to be more strategic and involved in the leadership of the parish and sort of supporting the priest and where the parish is going. It’s been really interesting.
It’s a very small team. We have weekly meetings plus work in between, so it’s pretty time intensive, but it just fills me with such joy. I love doing things that help others and help others spiritually grow or help bring people into our church. That’s just been really wonderful for me to have more of a leadership role in that. It takes away time from my kids, but I hope that it shows them a model of how they would want to serve in their church when they’re older.
WACOAN: Because of your research, do you ever feel any extra pressure in maintaining a work-life balance? Like, ‘I should know what I’m talking about. I should be successful.’
Hunter: I think that there is pressure because I think that people around me look to me as an example. My students look to me as a model for not only how to be an example of a working mom and find that balance but also for how to lead. I have to be purposeful in the way that I treat my students, in the way that I lead my classroom because I know that I’m seen as an example. I hope that I’m a good example. I strive to be a positive role model.
Because of my research and my teaching on this topic of work-family balance, I’ve really thought a lot, over the last year especially, about this word ‘balance,’ and I’ve come to realize that balance is not the best term. I feel like work-family balance implies that there’s some sort of equality, that you’re going to strive for equal time spent at work and with your family, and I think that’s such an unrealistic expectation. Any working mom who’s trying to live up to some sort of equal time spent in those domains is just going to be frustrated. I’ve come to realize that maybe the better term is enrichment.
Some of my research, and other great research, focuses on how work and life enrich one another. So, to have that frame of mind about how your life as an employee can enrich your life as a parent and a spouse. For example, at work I learned great time management skills that I’m able to apply to running my family life. Work allows me certainly financial stability but also opportunities for vacations. I attend conferences that I turn into family vacations. Work allows me to serve students and really gain rich rewards. That feeling of reward from serving people helps me at home, but it also works in the reverse, right?
My family life enriches my work life. My kids teach me patience, of course. In some ways, my time at home provides relaxation and rejuvenation that allows me to be a better worker. So, this frame of enrichment I think is a better way to think about balance. I try to change my students’ mindset. Instead of trying to find some sort of equality, to really take an audit of your time and to better understand where you spend your time, and then to set goals to help life enrich work and work enrich life.
WACOAN: Do you have any tips or other things you’ve found helpful in your research?
Hunter: I try very hard to stay organized. I’m very careful with to-do lists and with my calendar on my phone. I calendar every reminder and meeting and sometimes even tasks. I put them on the calendar just so I don’t miss anything because I juggle a lot of things.
One of the most helpful things is I coordinate my calendar with my husband. Just sharing a calendar and having different colors for different things and knowing what you’re doing. We even do a review, not formally, but each evening or each morning we will just kind of say what’s coming up for the day and review when are we having dinner, what are we doing for dinner or what’s happening that evening or review the week ahead. We’re very much focused on coordinating our calendars.
WACOAN: Do you keep everything digital, or do you like writing lists? Or using Post-it notes?
Hunter: I have [written] to-do lists, so partially it’s my calendar, but partially I also usually have a running list, and I’m kind of redoing my bullet journal. I’m redoing the way that I’m managing my time right now. I feel like I’m always striving for the best way.
I like to write on paper, but then I got this Rocketbook, which is kind of fun, for Christmas, so I can make [my notes] digital. I just take a photo, and then I have a digital copy. It scans automatically into my Dropbox cloud, so it’s always accessible. It’s kind of a fun, clever little tool that I’m using all the time right now. Anything I can do to stay organized is really important to me. Sometimes to an obsessive degree.
The other thing that I teach my students that I’ve come to realize is helpful is changing your metric. I think where a lot of working moms that I talk to stumble is because we make comparisons. We compare ourselves to unrealistic expectations. Me comparing myself to a stay-at-home mom would be an unfair comparison in terms of maybe the amount of time that she has to devote to the home and to her family. But also, we tend to compare ourselves to social media, right? What we see, what we believe from their posts is the reality of other people’s lives. So, I’ve tried to change my metric, and I’m encouraging others to do the same. It could be anything, right? But just evaluate how you want to assess if you’re doing a good job keeping balance.
My assessment right now is to look for warning signs. If I can find warning signs, then I can change the way I’m managing my time and living my life. For example, I look for warning signs of my kids commenting that I’m working too much. Every once in a while throughout the year I do work evenings, weekends, you know, just busy seasons. And if my kids start to comment, that tells me that they’re noticing that I’m spending too much time away or not enough time with them, so then I’ll try to shift back to a better balance.
Another warning sign I look for is how well I’m coordinating with my husband. If we feel really out of sync, and we’re not communicating well and we’re not coordinating with our schedules and we’re missing things, then I try to focus back on coordinating and communicating with my husband. I look for those warning signs to assess whether I’m doing a good job. Not trying to strive for equal time spent in work and family because I feel like that’s unrealistic for me, but just to try to figure out what does success look like for me because I think that’s unique and individual to every single person.
I talked to some students and one metric is are you getting enough sleep? Some people really have to focus on that, and this student was telling me that she knows she’s not doing well in her time management if sleep is suffering, and so she’ll have to reevaluate. Just finding, what is that metric for you?
It feels weird to talk about these things because I feel like I struggle just like everybody else. I think we all have great coping strategies we’ve learned over the years, and these are just a few things that I do, but it’s such a struggle. That’s why it’s so inspiring for me to do research on it because it’s so hard. It’s a constant, daily, hourly challenge that I’m constantly trying to navigate, and so to try to find some direction for more working parents I think is just really helpful.
WACOAN: I really love what you said about redefining balance or changing your metric for what success looks like for you.
Hunter: I’m starting to go that direction with my thinking and my teaching because I think the labels that we put on it are just not helpful. There’s some great conversation out there and there are some great TED Talks and some books out there that are redefining, changing that normal, everyday conversation to be around reframing what our expectations are, instead of something that is just unreasonable for all of us.