In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, we see that slavery prevented the author from experiencing a familial relationship with either of his parents.
Frederick Douglass’s mother was a slave named Harriet Bailey. He knows her name, and even the names of her parents, Isaac and Betsey Bailey, but he does not really know her.
I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night.
Douglass was taken away from his mother as an infant, as were most slaves in the area of Maryland he was from. He believes the purpose of this practice is to squelch the natural feeling between mother and child, which Douglass describes as “the inevitable result.” He saw his mother only four or five times in his life when she sneaked out to visit him, walking the twelve-mile journey on foot. Although he remembers her visits and the tenderness she showed during them, he does not feel a strong affection for her. He illustrates his lack of feeling when he tells of her death when he was seven.
She was gone long before I knew any thing about it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.
Douglass has even less of a relationship with his father. He never learns without a doubt the identity of his father, but the slaves on the plantation he labored on as a small child said he was the son of the master. If it was so, the master never acknowledged him. Douglass explains that being the illegitimate son of a slave and the white master made life even harder.
They are, in the first place, a constant offence to their mistress. She is ... never better pleased than when she sees them under the lash ... The master is frequently compelled to sell this class of his slaves, out of deference to the feelings of his white wife; and, cruel as the deed may strike any one to be ... unless he does this, he must not only whip them himself, but must stand by and see one white son tie up his brother ...
The system of slavery developed standard practices to prevent the growth of any family feelings among slaves. By destroying the affections and unity of the family, the individual slave is isolated, and any desire or ability for resistance is quashed.