Keeping Up With Changing Times… or not?

by cv harquail on August 26, 2013

A long time contributor to AuPairMom sent us a fascinating challenge:

How should Host Parents respond to their Au Pair’s interest in trying pot, now that it’s actually legal in their state?

I must say, this is a host parenting challenge that never occurred to me– and it’s intriguing.

On the one hand– it’s legal. Where a host parent previously could focus on the law to avoid a situation where s/he’d have to approve or disapprove of an au pair getting high, the change in the legal status of pot in Colorado and Washington means that host parents in these states are on the cutting edge of a new challenge.

And I thought walking the dog was an issue!


Dear Host Parents,

We live in Washington State where marijuana has recently become legal.  

Besides some occasional pot smoking in college neither my husband nor I have used marijuana, just isn’t our “thing” (wine is our thing) although we have several friends who do smoke marijuana regularly who are successful professionals with children.  Since it became legal my husband and I have each tried an “edible” with friends on one occasion. (I should explain that an “edible” is a marijuana treat…chocolate or dipped oreos, caramels, rice krispie treats, cookies, etc.  Not being an expert on these things I though maybe you wouldn’t be either but that’s the lingo…”edible”!)  Host dad was on a camping trip, I was on a “girls weekend so no kids around in either situation).

Again, not really our thing but we agreed we’d try it again sometime together when the time was right…maybe a night out with no kids or something…neither one of us was hugely motivated to try it again any time soon.

We are currently on our third au pair and she’s great so far, she’s been here about 2 months.  It came up at dinner the other night (after kids were in bed!) about these “edibles”.   My husband explained his experience and I explained mine.  His edible came from a friend who has invested in a company to make these items once the State works out all the details of distributing these products.  This same friend and his wife and 3 kids will be going on our family Labor Day camping trip next weekend.

Our Au Pair’s eyes lit up.  She said she would love to try these edibles.  She comes from a European country where marijuana is illegal but rarely prosecuted, she said she’d tried it a few times at home.  I’m not sure these friends will even bring any of this product with them but I imagine they might.

For some reason it doesn’t quite sit right with me to allow her to use marijuana on our camping trip.  

Although I wouldn’t mind if she had a few drinks in the evening (she’s over 21) as long as she followed our rules about it (no using alcohol on duty, no heavy drinking if caring for the kids the next day).  She will really only be watching the kids a few hours over the weekend so if she did it after they went to bed, which is what I imagine our friends will do…she would be fine when we all got up in the morning.  And although I will say that maybe a TINY part of this is because the legality of procuring and distributing marijuana and edibles is still a bit up in the air, I don’t think that’s what’s driving my hesitation.  Maybe it’s just force of habit?

I think since I am hesitating now I can easily say “no, not this time” about the weekend.  I don’t intend to use these products this weekend and I can use the legality excuse for now…but I wonder how to handle this in the future if this stuff is going to be legal!

We’ve always said “no illegal drugs”, and we’ll continue to do that.  We have put some strict rules around drinking as above (again, we ourselves like to drink but don’t drink and drive or drink heavily late into the night on a regular basis, etc.) so I’m thinking we’d need/want to do the same with marijuana.  I know we could just say no using marijuana but they are adults, it’s not illegal, and we ourselves might use it very occasionally.

So then I think “what’s the issue?”  If it’s legal, if it doesn’t affect her job performance, it it doesn’t put her, our children, our family into an unsafe situation….she’s an adult and can do it on her adult time.  Maybe we ask that she never bring it into our home?  

I know some people might get a little sanctimonious about this and I’m not really interested in a debate about the legality of marijuana.  (Good point folks– let’s stick to advice for her real situation.- cv)

Pot is legal here in Washington and in Colorado now (whether we voted for it or not…it’s legal!).  This issue WILL come up for those of us who live in these States with our Au Pairs.

I’m just really interested in how other HMs and HDs plan to handle this or how they would handle it if they were in a State where it was legal.


Thank you!

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Should be working August 26, 2013 at 7:42 pm

My handbook says that the AP is not allowed to be around the kids (whether she is on duty or not) nor driving our car if she is under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. I could imagine easily amending that to “alcohol, marijuana and related products, or illegal drugs”. We do sometimes offer her a glass of wine at dinner (under age) but with the understanding that she may not help herself to our alcohol and may not drive that evening, once she’s accepted the wine. But even if pot were legal in my state, I wouldn’t be offering it to my AP.

It’s your camping trip, your kids, and your friends. Stick to your gut. Create a rule, discuss it, don’t overexplain, and just be confident that you are doing the right thing. She’ll go along with it if she is reasonable, and she’ll be able to go try ‘edibles’ with her friends in some other context where you don’t need to be part of it.

MidAtlantic Host Family August 26, 2013 at 8:49 pm

This is a really interesting issue. I know there are host families here that have rules against smoking cigarettes ever for their AP’s. It may be that you figure out house rules by analogy that work for you. We discourage smoking but ignore it when occasional. In fact, we did not over-react when a bottle of perfume got dumped in our car by accident while attempting to cover up the smoke smell – which was more offensive than the actual smell of smoke. I guess I am saying I would focus less on the legality and more on the lifestyle issue for you and your comfort level.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 26, 2013 at 9:25 pm

My handbook states that the AP is not to consume alcohol or drugs while on duty. About 1/2 of my APs have been tee-totalers and the rest some mix of party girls (off duty). The tee-totalers I have encouraged to state they are designated drivers when they go clubbing so their sodas will be free. For the under-aged APs I have warned them that they are minors in the eyes of the law and there may be legal consequences to drinking and driving. (One AP paid for taxis to avoid the issue.)

If your gut tells you to say no, then say no. It’s a family camping trip after all. Tell your AP, “We will be camping with the children and won’t be trying edibles and prefer that you do not consume them as well.”

Anna August 26, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Interesting discussion.
Just like I don’t hire smokers, even occasional smokers who think they can lie to me and then hide it here – this is a make it or break it issue for me, I would have no problem saying that I will not match with a marijuana user in any shape or form (smoking or “edibles”). If she turns out to have lied, I would rematch immediately
Your situation is more complex because for you this is not a straight cut issue and you have shared your experiences with her in a positive way; but just like you have other rules for her (you do, do you? about the car, your house, etc?) you can have a rule about marijuana for her.

JJ Host Mom August 26, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Here would be my rules with marijuana:
– Never use it when you’re responsible for the kids, or even around older kids who might perceive a personality change
– Never use it and drive
– Don’t smoke in or anywhere near the home
– Don’t leave edibles in a place where children could find and accidentally eat them, or marijuana and paraphenelia in a place where kids can find them and ask questions

That said, I live in a state where medical use is legal and I use it legally myself (but according to the guidelines I stated above.) It wouldn’t bother me if our au pair used it, if she had a medical card.

In this situation, I think it would be fair to say no to using it on the camping weekend since it’s a family trip and she’ll be around the kids. But I think this is just another example of a situation where host family and au pair need to communicate and find the right match. As long as you’re reasonable and fair about your expectations then she will hopefully understand where you’re coming from.

Leaving a Comment August 27, 2013 at 1:38 am

Great post. I’m in one of the states where it’s legal and I’m not sure what rules I should have for that… I got inspired to think about it and talk about it with my husband…

WoodlandsMom August 27, 2013 at 7:20 am

I came from a state where pot was very much accepted and used as an after work activity. If it were legal in my current state I would have the same rules as I do for alcohol. The difference in this situation is that you are potentially mixing drugs while in the presence of you and your friends. That seems to be a bit of a professional boundary that you would not want to cross. If me, I would not want my au pair to see me tipsy and I wouldn’t want to see that from my au pair either. I would encourage her to try pot with her own friends in a safe place when off-duty.

Momma Gadget August 27, 2013 at 9:23 am

I agree I would use the same rules as alcohol. I think the choice to try or use this is hers , and I would neither encourage or dissuade her. Reiterate the rules as they apply to the safety of your children and driving your vehicles.

I would also point out to her that this substance is so newly available there are going to be a lot of grey areas. It is her responsibility to know the laws and be extra careful if she chooses to use. It is up to her to be mindful that it is not legal in most states, and to be sure not to accidentally transport it into a state where it is illegal, or do something really stupid like mailing ‘edibles’ to another AP in a different state.

On the family camping trip, I would ask her to refrain, since she will be around your children and you have no idea how this drug will alter her personality.

WoodlandsMom August 27, 2013 at 7:25 am

I would also talk to your friends privately and let them know how you feel. Hopefully they would support you in having your family camping trip to be as comfortable as possible. Also if you haven’t had these friends around your au pair socially before, it might be better to ask them not to part-take in too much alcohol or pot. People have a way of sharing private or embarrassing stories when they are high that you might not want your au pair to know about.

cAupair August 27, 2013 at 7:31 am

I´d say there should not be a problem while holding some guidelines, but be aware many people start smoking ocassionally and that creates an addiction that they can´t handle.

effects from marihuana can last 10h so I´d say no smoking in a period of time of 12 hours if you´re on duti next day.

alcohol is another drug but we don´t consider it dangerous but most of people mix alcohol with marihuana and that´s a bomb for your body.

Julie August 27, 2013 at 9:00 am

I’m in a state where it’s legal. My belief is that federally, it’s illegal and these au pairs are here on a federal program. I’m not sure, but as they are not US citizens and part of a state department, they’d have their visa revoked and be required to go home if they were found out in any way by any party who thought it was not acceptable.

Momma Gadget August 27, 2013 at 9:25 am

Great point!

NoVA Twin Mom August 27, 2013 at 10:14 am

They’re still working out how enforcement is going to work as marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. I would phrase it as not wanting to jeopardize their visa status if they were to be caught up in a bust. And while I know I can’t control what an au pair does in her off time (and thankfully there’s no distinction in my state as marijuana is illegal at the state level here as well), I would not want to encourage marijuana use in my presence. In addition to not allowing it (regardless of medical status) while caring for my children.

Host Mom in the City August 27, 2013 at 9:27 am

I think I agree with Julie, but I’m not in a state where it’s legal and I know there is a greater conversation about how to manage the legality on a nation-wide level now that it’s legal in a few states. For example, Federal employees even in legal states are still not allowed to use it.

I know for sure that I wouldn’t want her using it, especially for the first time, on a family camping trip! That seems like it’s just asking for trouble. Even though you want your au pairs to be “part of the family,” I think there still needs to be some professional boundaries.

That said, I think I’d have this fall under my smoking and alcohol areas. We are a family that will not take a smoker, even an occasional or “social” smoker, and have made it clear that if we find out she smokes, we’re rematching. Now in reality, if she has a cigarette at a bar and we never know about it, there’s nothing I can do about that. If she comes home smelling like smoke, that’s another story. Along a similar line, if she’s out smoking pot and it doesn’t affect me in the least, not my business. If she comes home smelling like it, I think I would be pretty angry. It’s a family house after all, not an apartment she lives in with friends, and I’m not having a “what’s the smell” conversation with my seven-year-old.

We drink a beer/wine almost daily at dinner, and enjoy alcohol when we are out. I am fine with responsible alcohol drinking. We will never again have an under-21 au pair after this year, but for our first and our new one, we make it clear that we don’t mind drinking (and we really don’t) as long as she is not driving after drinking and as long as it’s not affecting her work performance. I think the same would be true with legal pot.

I also learned this year that I don’t want to hear about my childcare provider’s drunken evenings and I think that would apply in this situation too. Like when I ask you how your weekend was and you start telling me about all the bars you and your friends got kicked out of, I learned that crosses a line for me. Believe me, I was 21, I thought all that stuff was funny, I’m not judging. But I don’t want to hear about it. I think the same would hold with pot if it were legal – do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t affect me (as long as you show up on time and not hungover/stoned for your shift), it’s done safely (nothing illegal and no driving afterwards), and I don’t have to hear about it (because then I have to try to combine that image of you getting kicked out of a bar because you and your friends are so drunk with the person I’m trusting to take care of my kids).

Host Mom X August 27, 2013 at 10:20 am

I think many of us might have a slightly more negative reaction to pot-use, even in now-legal states, because it has been contraband for so long in the U.S. So even though we may know in our heads that there isn’t much difference between getting a little high and getting a little tipsy – we just have that visceral “but it’s illegal!” reaction, even when it’s not. So it feels a little more borderline than drinking.

Like others said, I think I’d feel the same about an au pair using pot as I would about her drinking alcohol, if I were in a legal state. That is, if she’s of age, her free time is her free time and she should feel free to use her free time as she sees fit, as long as it doesn’t impact on her work time.

This situation is different, though, as Woodlandsmom points out, because it’s a family trip. When we have wine or beer at dinner, we offer it to our au pair and have no problem with that. But we are not getting drunk together on those occasions; we are enjoying a glass or two of wine. I would not be comfortable getting drunk, or even tipsy, with my au pair. Honestly, I think all of our au pairs have felt the same way – that would be pretty awkward! I am fairly square, so I haven’t more than dabbled with pot use in my life, but my experience and friends’ experience has been that when you are using pot, your aim is to get at least a little bit buzzed. This is different from alcohol, where you may enjoy a glass of wine or beer without actually getting tipsy. I’m not sure you get the same enjoyment out of smoking just a little bit of a joint or eating just a little bit of a pot brownie – if it has no effect, why do it? So – my assumption is that if you all will be consuming “edibles” on this camping trip, it will be with the goal of getting at least a little bit high. And for me – I don’t want to get high with my au pair. I would think she would feel the same, if she stopped to think about it. Super A-W-K-W-A-R-D! Maybe that’s the way to approach it. Tell her you have no problem with her enjoying alcohol or pot and even getting drunk or high on occasion with friends (as long as it doesn’t affect her work and doesn’t happen around the kids), but that you feel it might be awkward for you and she to be drunk or high together. So – maybe the best idea is that, since your AP will be joining you this trip, the adults all refrain from after-hours “edible” use. Save it for an evening with these friends when the AP will not be joining you. Though maybe suggest that your friend offer her some samples to share with her friends later? We would often give our AP a bottle of wine when we knew she had friends coming over for pre-partying. They were always respectful – just had a glass or two each at home while getting ready for a night out, which made it more fun for them, and of course saved them some drink money that they could use instead for a cab home or dinner before clubbing.

Seattle Mom August 27, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I agree that if we are going to imbibe in edibles in front of our AP we can’t deny her.. either all the adults get to have some (when the kids are sleeping) or none of the adults get to have some.

Reminds me of another thing.. my husband comes from a family where it is completely acceptable to smoke pot. But at big family gatherings the grownups would all sneak off to a corner to share a joint, and the kids would sneak off to a different corner to share a joint- and the two never joined. It was kind of funny. His family thanksgivings are MUCH more interesting than mine. And FWIW his family is full of very successful people in many different fields- lawyers, politicians, teachers, scientists, etc but it also has a higher concentration of artists than most families.

Old China Hand August 27, 2013 at 10:22 am

We don’t drink or use any drugs for religious reasons, nor do we smoke tobacco. I don’t remember exactly what we stated in our family handbook, but we did try to find an au pair who doesn’t drink. Ours drinks occasionally but isn’t allowed to have any drugs or alcohol on our property (nor are her friends). Smoking is absolutely not allowed ever. I would use similar rules for pot as I do for alcohol, but probably a bit stricter. In any case, we have Chinese au pairs and for the most part Chinese society has hammered into these kids that drugs are pure evil and make you into a bad person the instant you touch them, but alcohol and smoking are ok, so I don’t know that we would really have a Chinese girl interested in trying pot. The concern about visa issues is a very real one though until federal enforcement gets sorted out.

Emerald City HM August 27, 2013 at 10:51 am

Regardless of whether or not it’s legal, you are her employer and are allowed to decide. We remind au pairs in our handbook tht it is still illegal federally. Does that mean we would rematch if they tried it, probably not. If it became habitual, definitely yes.

Even though it is legal here, my employer (not federal government, but large company) does not allow it. My employer does not allow for medical use exceptions either (in states where that is allowed and the employee has a card).

Though if we occasionally partook, I might feel differently.

The Post Was From Me :) August 27, 2013 at 11:20 am

This question came from me although this is clearly not my regular moniker :)

Thanks for the great insight! I realized something about our philosophy around our Au Pair “rules” which is that we don’t make or enforce rules for them that we don’t have for ourselves. So we DO have rules about smoking and drinking that we ourselves follow. We have rules about being home at a reasonable hour when working early the next morning which we ourselves follow. We have rules about cell phone and texting while driving and looking after the kids which we ourselves follow. I want whatever rules we come up with for marijuana use to be something we follow as well, and since I’m not ready to ban myself from ever using pot, I think it’s as simple as: we don’t want it in our home and we don’t want it used when you are working/around the kids or will be working/around the kids in the next ~8 hours. If it becomes a problem we will insist you don’t use it at all, ever for the rest of your year. My kids are young, by the way, both less than 5.

I’m truly not concerned about the legality on a Federal level…if the Federal Government has time to bust pot-smoking Au Pairs…God help us all. For a long time in Seattle marijuana possession itself has been a non-offense, we have a police officer friend who told us what a blind eye they turn to it and while I am a rule follower in a lot of ways, this one just doesn’t concern me.

I did think the point about how pot is an all or nothing (you’re using it to get high, not because it tastes good like wine) is a good one. I will put my foot down about this weekend and let her know if she wants to try an edible another time with friends that she is welcome to do so but we don’t think this is the right time.

Thanks again for the though-provoking discussion!!

Dani August 27, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I am an Au Pair that smokes pot in the Netherlands. I’ve been with my host family for going on 7 years. After 4 years I got married and now have my own little girl, and I live around the corner from my host family. I think a few of the commenters here (no offense of course) aren’t actually aware of what smoking pot or eating an edible is like, or have only heard their information from scare-mongering media. Pot is decriminalized here, and has a much lower abuse rate than the states. I think it’s 9% here who use it, and somewhere near 20% in the states.

anywho. some facts.

First – smoking pot is MUCH easier to handle than eating it. You need .2grams to feel effects, and when you smoke it you feel that instantly or within 15 mins. When you eat it can take hours and hours and sometimes people will then eat more than one and be high for days (I have done this while my host family were away on vacation and it was awesome/crazy). So make sure your au pair is at least aware of this.

Second – when you use it stays in your system for a month. so if she needs a drug test for whatever reason, let her know this.

third – when you smoke pot after 30 mins it starts to dim off, and after 3-4 hours (if you don’t smoke more than required to get high, which is a waste if you ask me) you will be sober.

fourth – pot is the least toxic substance known to man. If you allow alcohol then not allowing pot is not really fair. Of course, this is your choice and don’t feel like I’m trying to convince you that weed is amazing. But it is. Weed makes you happy, hungry and sociable. The psychotic effects that are mentioned in news reports are only felt by people who already have problems with psychosis. The reason weed is non toxic is because it doesn’t effect an area of the brain that controls heart and lungs. Where as alcohol can definitely poison you quite quickly.

So knowing these things, it’s perfectly safe to mix pot and alcohol. It’s safe for your au pair to smoke pot. It’s not a good idea if it’s not legal where you are, though there is a chance that if she’s done it in her country where it’s not really legal, she could do it where you are too. The fact that she is talking to you about it is a miracle. I’m pretty sure my host family don’t know that I do it. (I don’t live with them anymore, I haven’t since that one time mentioned above, which was also the first time).

My advice as a mother and au pair – I would say that it’s a drug, you don’t want it near your kids, you don’t want her smoking during the day while she’s working. A toke at night is not going to injure her or your kids, in the same way a glass of wine won’t hurt.

It is not physically addictive, you don’t get the shakes or vomit or get headaches if you stop smoking (unlike caffeine or cigarettes or alcohol – all legal!) but it is habitually addictive – much like porn use or eating chocolate and chips every day.

Seattle Mom August 27, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Well it should be pretty obvious that I live in one of the states where pot is legal :)

I think the OP got some great answers here- I agree that it is up for the HF to decide their tolerance for what kinds of substances their APs may use, especially in their home, in their presence, or in the presence of their children. Like many families, we only want non-smoking APs, because I find the smell of cigarettes to be completely repulsive and I don’t want to risk any second hand smoke near me or my kids. I would not allow my APs to drink while on duty, but what they do off-duty is their business as long as it doesn’t get in the way of them functioning when they need to (and as long as they don’t hurt my car).

As far as marijuana goes, I wouldn’t feel comfortable partaking in front of my AP or my children, and I don’t want to see the AP take marijuana. If she wanted to do marijuana away from the house, with her friends, that would be ok but it would have to not interfere with her duties, just like drinking alcohol. Come to think of it, our AP is a private person and I have no idea if she has ever done marijuana or any drug. She goes out drinking fairly often and occasionally comes home drunk (after we’re all asleep- but I can sometimes tell from either her facebook page or if she is particularly noisy). I am fine with this- I just wish she could be quiet enough to never wake me up. And I kind of miss all the AP gossip we used to get from our previous AP who always told us what happened when she went out (judging from facebook pages, our last AP was not as wild a partier as the current one).

Well this has been a very good subject for me- we are about to start looking for the next AP and I am updating my handbook. I will definitely include something about marijuana in the handbook. I think I will state that it is legal in this state but not federally so the rule for APs is ambiguous… use at your own risk, and not in our home or when you are anywhere near the children.

Seattle Mom August 27, 2013 at 5:20 pm

PS I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea- I think I have had marijuana a total of 3 times in the last 5 years since having children. It just doesn’t mix with parenting, IMHO. My husband has had maybe twice as much as me, but he has never had to breastfeed.

Seattle Mom August 27, 2013 at 5:21 pm

and he had shingles!

DarthaStewart September 1, 2013 at 9:24 am

Wow. Ya’ll handle it better than me. I think that for me- the kicker would be smoking it. I really can’t stand smoke of any kind. If marijuana were actually legal in my state, I think that the rule about not smoking in our home or cars ever would still stand.

As to what the au-pairs do off duty- as long as it is not illegal, it is impossible to regulate, so I don’t worry too much.

Seattle Mom September 19, 2013 at 4:57 pm

My rule is that I don’t want to smell cigarette smoke on ANYTHING that enters our home or car. So they would have to go through some serious hoops to smoke a cigarette.

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