What kind of parent purposely ruins the relationship a child has with their other, perfectly loving parent?
It's called parental alienation, and it happens when one parent's hatred for the other one is greater than their love for the child involved. The alienating parent essentially uses the child as a pawn in a game that's designed to hurt the other parent as much as possible. Both mothers and fathers can be on the receiving end of this kind of treatment -- although the child ends up being the biggest victim of all.
Although there's significant debate about whether parental alienation should be labeled a "syndrome" or not, attorneys and psychologists often see this kind of situation in fierce custody battles. Usually, one parent will actively try to poison the child's mind against the targeted parent in hopes that the court will take the child's feelings into consideration and deprive the targeted parent of all custody.
Essentially, parental alienation causes a child's view of the targeted parent to become distorted and at odds with reality. A loving parent is demonized. An involved parent is portrayed as distant. In many cases, the child may come to genuinely believe that the targeted parent never loved them. In severe cases, psychologists say that children will "rewrite history" in a way that paints the targeted parent as hateful or even abusive.
The long-term effects of parental alienation can be severe. Not only is the child's bond with the targeted parent broken (possibly forever), but the child may end up with low self-esteem, depression and substance abuse problems. Many psychologists consider parental alienation to be an act of abuse.
Parental alienation is frighteningly common. It's estimated that it occurs in up to 15 percent of divorces where children are involved. If you believe that it's happening to your child, it's important to discuss the situation with your attorney. You may need to take an aggressive stance as you seek custody of your child in order to protect them from a lifetime of negative effects.