Using 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.