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Andy Murray and mum Judy on Twitter: Is it ever okay for a parent to have a favourite child?

The battle for parental affection is not confined to the famous tennis brothers, writes Kerry McKittrick

Published 07/07/2015

Jamie Murray and Andy Murray
Jamie Murray and Andy Murray
Lynda Bryans with niece Natalie (centre) and sister Alison Clarke
Leesa Harker with sister Samantha
Family album: Ralph and sister Heather back in their younger days
Light-hearted banter: Judith Cochrane with siblings John and Glenda
Dobson2
Brothers in politics: Tim and Alex Attwood

When Andy Murray's mum, Judy, took to Twitter recently to post a photograph of the 2013 Wimbledon champion with football manager Jose Mourinho, she made no secret of her pride.

The accompanying caption read: "The Special One with my Special One." It was quickly followed up by a post from her other son, Jamie, which simply said: "Thank you mum." Ouch.

Like his younger sibling, Andy, Jamie (29) is a professional tennis player with a career that includes a Wimbledon title - mixed doubles in 2007.

However, his star pales considerably when compared to that of his younger brother, who became the first British player to win the Wimbledon's men's singles title in 77 years when he lifted the trophy in 2013.

Andy (28) then weighed into the online discussion himself, replying: "We all know you are number one son noobs... Best presents at Christmas, bigger bedroom, blame everything on me etc."

Almost anyone with at least one brother or sister will recognise sibling rivalry, even if it's light-hearted - the constant competition to ensure parents' attention and admiration or an equal share of treats and gifts.

No child likes to think that their parents have a favourite - particularly if it's not them. And though a certain amount of rivalry can be healthy, singling out one child as 'the Special One' can lead to issues of low self-esteem, even jealousy, in later life.

Kerry McKittrick talks to local well-known faces who have first-hand experience of sibling rivalry.

Lynda Bryans (53) is a TV presenter and lecturer. She is married to Mike Nesbitt and lives in Dundonald with their children PJ (20) and Christopher (18). She says:

My brother is called Glen and my sister is Alison - I'm the eldest of the three. Alison is in the middle and Glen is the youngest.

We still joke about this kind of thing at family gatherings because not only was Glen the youngest, but he was the only boy.

He lives in Scotland now, but he comes home two or three times a year. The thing is, when he does come home, my mother starts baking about a month beforehand and doing up rooms - it's like the prodigal son returning. She's even been known to put down new carpet for him.

Meanwhile, Alison and I are looking at each other thinking that we don't get this kind of treatment and we're about all year round.

We tease both mum and Glen mercilessly about it. Glen was always 'The Special One' and he continues to hold that spot. Even when he does come over, anything he doesn't eat is packaged into plastic boxes and sent home with him.

I think you can have favourites among your children, but for different reasons, not that one is more special than the other one. Maybe one is special because they have a lovely nature and great sense of humour and maybe the other one is special because they're thoughtful and creative.

I don't think you can love one more than the other though - as a mother that thought horrifies me.

Mind you, when they were younger, I used to tell each of them I loved them more than the other when we were alone.

It was in a jokey way of course! But they both believed they were special.

Leesa Harker (37) is the writer of hit play, Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue. She lives in Belfast with her daughters Lola (7) and Lexi (4). She says:

My mum used to say to me and my sister, "I don't make any difference between you, I hate you both the same."

Samantha is three years younger than me, so I reckon I had a hard time. I was a brilliant child up until I hit the age of 13 when I discovered cider and boys and went a bit mad. As she got older, Samantha quietened down. I repeat that phrase of mum's jokingly to my two girls now.

My sister and I are so different - she was really into sports and very handy around the house. She can actually do more around the house than her husband. She even paved her own front garden. I'm the total opposite, I think I'm more academic and she's more practical. My girls are also polar opposites, you would think they were from different families.

I don't think parents play favourites or love one child over the other. Mostly, I think it comes later on in life - girls are closer to their mothers as kids come along and guys tend to be closer to the dad because they'll have more in common.

Samantha and I laugh - she has two boys and they love to climb and play, whereas my two girls bicker. There is definitely some sibling rivalry there."

Ralph McLean (44) is a TV and radio presenter and lives in Ballymoney with wife Kerry and their children Tara (9) and Dan (7). He says:

I have a sister, Heather, and a brother, Gordon, and I was very much the baby as they were both quite a few years older than me.

Growing up, I missed out on sibling rivalry because I was that much younger. I know my wife, Kerry, says she and her sister used to beat each other when they were kids in a classic sibling rivalry.

I was very lucky, I was almost an only child in that respect which was kind of nice for me.

I see it a lot with my own two kids, though. Tara and Dan are nine and seven and they’re woeful for it. If one of them gets two more peas on their plate than the other then you’ll be told about it. We constantly have to make sure that everything they get is exactly the same and neither one gets better treatment — they are constantly watching. Even in the car, there’s practically a line drawn down the middle so they each have their own space. Dan is the one trying to impinge on Tara’s space, so there’s a constant wind-up going on.

It’s a loving thing, it’s not a problem and I’m sure that it’s something you grow out of. I don’t see it in Heather and Gordon any more at all. I think it’s worse the closer you are in age to your siblings. My two make me laugh. If either thinks the other got more, I’ll hear about it for years.

It must be hard for Jamie Murray to have a brother who is so super successful. They’re a really competitive sporting family and it must be nearly impossible to deal with.

Clearly, Judy is very competitive, so there’s a lot of pressure on both of them.”

Jo-Anne Dobson (48) is an Ulster Unionist Party MLA and lives in Waringstown with her husband John and their sons Elliott (25) and Mark (22). She says:

My sister, Belinda, is two years younger than me and we weren’t really rivals when we were growing up. We’re very alike and people actually thought we were twins when we were younger. We didn’t have much of a rivalry, so she’s always been a great support. I think it’s because we were so close in age that we were friends as we grew up.

My boys are much more different than Belinda and me. I think certainly Mark got more attention when he was growing up as he had kidney problems from birth that ultimately led to a kidney transplant. Elliott was very good about it, though, and looked out for himself a bit. I probably overcompensated with Mark and spoilt him a bit more because of his illness.

Elliott was always very independent and is a real go-getter. The teachers loved him at school, but when they got Mark, it was a different story because all he was interested in was the farm. Elliott ended up going to Cambridge and graduated two years ago.

We just took it for granted that Elliott would do well, but if Mark produced something good at school, we were delighted.

Elliott lives in London now and I’m still very close to both of them. The boys were very close growing up and are still in contact as much as they can be over Skype and email.”

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood (51) lives in Belfast with his wife Gemma. They have three children, Eoin (7) and twins Michael and Feargal (4). He says:

There were five us growing up; Paul, Alex, Mary, then me and Olga and we’re all quite close together in age.

Of course, there was sibling rivalry when we were growing up — I have two older brothers, so it seemed to me that they got everything and I didn’t get anything.

They were always a bit faster and a bit stronger than me, so when we were playing games, I was always a bit picked upon in the house. Even when we were younger, my dad would take Alex out to play golf — we all played — at a very nice golf club, but I was too young.

Alex and I have decided we’re not the Milibands with their rivalry in politics. Instead, we want to be the Kennedys, a big political family. Alex is a big fan of Robert Kennedy and always thought that the younger brother was more important and more influential, so my day will come.

Our twins are identical, but they each have their own personalities and there’s the natural competitiveness that all children have. I know it’s going to get worse as they get older and start picking on poor Eoin as it will be two against one.

I always say I’m the younger and wiser one between me and Alex, but there’s no doubt that he is much better known than I am.

When I helped organise the Yes concert with U2 and David Trimble and John Hume, I was in the green room of the Waterfront Hall and Alex introduced himself as my brother. That was the first time he’d ever done that, normally it’s the other way around.”

Judith Cochrane (39) is an Alliance MLA for East Belfast. She lives in Belfast with husband Jonathan, a software engineer, and their two daughters, Emma Rose (11) and Jessica (8). She says:

I have an older sister, Glenda, and a younger brother, John, and there are three years between each of us.

There were certainly sibling rivalries when we were younger.

Glenda was the sensible, smart one, I was the messer in the middle, while John was Mr Sporty. I remember my mum never came to watch me play hockey throughout my 14 years at school, but she would watch John playing rugby.

Even my dad would arrive at my hockey match then sneak off to the rugby pitch. To be fair, John did go on to play rugby for Ireland.

There was always a bit of that. John and Glenda both went to university in Edinburgh, but I went to Aberdeen.

The family would always meet up for rugby matches like the Six Nations, but I was the one who had to travel to everyone else — they never came to me. That has a lot to do with circumstance, though.

There is still banter between us now about who is the favourite, but it’s all light-hearted. I’m sure it’s very normal between brothers and sisters, we all  get on.

I see sibling rivalry now between Emma and Jessica. I think it’s the age Emma is at — we’re getting into pre-teenage strops, so she will come home and tell me I favour Jessica over her. I think because Jessica is still my baby, she gets more kisses and cuddles than Emma did at that age. I do remind Emma that she had three and a half years of me all to herself before Jessica came along.”

Belfast Telegraph

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