AbstractUsing data from the Biographies et entourage survey conducted by INED in 2001 on 2,830 inhabitants of the Paris region aged between 50 and 70, this article presents a detailed analysis of the respondents’ parental universe. Alongside biological parents, adoptive and step-parents, this universe comprises all people mentioned by respondents as having played a parental role during their childhood. On the basis of retrospective information obtained from the beneficiaries of this parental attention, and not from its providers, we propose a practical approach to the notion of parenthood that reveals the family and non-family resources available to individuals between the 1930s and 1960s. One respondent in five mentions the existence of at least one person who played a complementary or surrogate parental role. The grandparents – maternal grandmother especially – are mentioned very frequently in this respect. Examining the functions assigned to these « elective parents » reveals the very practical nature of their parenting role. Their strong affective ties with the respondent, combined with their practical parenting functions are two criteria for identifying a parent figure who is not necessarily part of the family circle – 16% of persons mentioned being unrelated to the respondent.