William “Bill” Sperling is more than Child360’s acting CEO: He’s also a dad! Bill’s children are both in the all-important 0-5 age range, so we were delighted when he agreed to talk to us about Father’s Day, parenting, and how his experiences as both parent and ECE professional impact each other.
Please tell us a little about your children.
I have two sons: Matthew is five and Thomas is two.
You were part of Child360 (as General Counsel, Chief Operating Officer, and Acting CEO) for many years before your first child was born. How did the experience of new fatherhood inform your work?
Before the children, I had an overall appreciation of the education field because my mom was a teacher. I was happy to be part of a nonprofit that addressed some of the challenges teachers face—the way we do with our professional support, development and coaching. After I had children, I really started to look at the ECE field through a parent’s eyes, from the standpoint of what it’s like to try and find a quality early education setting.
How do your personal parenting experiences impact your work at Child360?
In one respect, becoming a dad has given me more credibility. I’m a lawyer by trade, and always lacked first-hand knowledge when talking about early education, but now I definitely have my ‘war stories.’ I also have more empathy for the parental side now. Though our interventions are primarily with providers, I’ve always understood that family engagement and parent involvement are important—but now I really get it.
Do you find yourself bringing personal parenting experiences into the workplace and/or using information from Child360 at home?
Dropping your kids off [at school] for the first time was a big deal I didn’t really understand. It was gut-wrenching, one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. When Matthew was clinging to my leg, [and I felt] as though we were abandoning him—that he’d never forgive us—my knowledge of what’s developmentally appropriate really helped me to leave him there and not get completely overwhelmed.
Because I’d heard what that transition is like from ECE professionals who’d been through it—like teachers who’d seen hundreds of kids over the years—it was nice to know that within a reasonable amount of time after I left, he would actually be occupied and interacting with other kids. That was the image I kept in my head as he was crying out for me when I left the classroom.
In your opinion, what qualities make a great father?
Because I’m an older dad (over 45), the greatest attribute for me personally is maybe a little bit of wisdom I probably didn’t have 20-plus years ago. That doesn’t mean that’s true for every dad, it’s just the thing I can add at this stage in my life.
But I do think one of the more universal skills is trying to understand the developmental stages that your child goes through, and understand that they are stages; for me, knowing that whatever behavior my son was exhibiting was part of [a recognized] developmental process really helped me through it.
Another thing is being able to talk to other dads and get their perspectives. I always learn something from another dad, that I then try to incorporate into my own family. There’s a lot of wisdom in ‘the room,’ if you can get a room together: I know it’s difficult sometimes, but it really is important to get that input from others. I’m also in a very unique position here at C360, surrounded by folks immersed in child development.
Were there any surprises for you in parenthood that you think new fathers should know about?
I can think of a couple of things: One was really positive, and the other very challenging. The positive side is that I completely underestimated how much I would love my kids. Everyone told me I would, but the overwhelming feeling I have for my children is a revelation.
The unexpected challenge was, in all honesty, the physical demand of keeping up with them as babies and toddlers. Because the physical impacts other things, if you don’t feel well or have enough energy, it really does affect your ability to do non-physical things like be patient, listen and understand. When you’re physically at your limit, those are hard to do. The lesson for both moms and dads is to make sure you take time away for yourself. There’s a lot of guilt (especially with working parents) associated with time spent away from your kids, but you won’t ever be at your best for them if you’re not taking care of yourself.
Are there any other important lessons you’ve learned along the way?
It’s a constant learning journey! Here’s a recent example: By his second birthday, my younger son Thomas still wasn’t talking. Friends and family said things like ‘It’s not a big deal—So-and-so didn’t talk ‘till she was four, and now she’s at Harvard,’ but my wife wanted to address it. I was reluctant because when you have pride in your kids, you never want to think anything’s amiss. But she went ahead and got him assessed, and three months after he began speech therapy the results have been night and day. He’s almost a different kid. It was eye-opening to step back from the desire for what you want your kids to be, and take them objectively for where they are, in order to provide what they need. Because Matthew was verbal very early, I expected Thomas to be the exact same— but now I know better. I learned that the hard way.
What are your favorite ways to spend recreational time with your children?
We play a lot of T-ball, which suits me as a big baseball fan: Matthew is in his second season already and he really enjoys it. My younger son Thomas really loves wrestling, so he tackles me a lot, likes to jump on my back, and we do a lot of that. Before I had kids I was really into surfing, and I used to play beach volleyball almost every weekend. I would love to eventually teach them to surf if they’re interested.