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Facebook's COO leaves work @ 5:30 & so should you

This is big.

Sheryl Sandberg – No. 2 @ Facebook and Forbes' 5th most powerful woman in the world – has come clean about leaving work every day at 5:30 p.m. so she can go home and have dinner with her two young kids.

It shouldn't be considered an act of bravery for a mom to publicly discuss going home at a reasonable hour to eat with her family, especially since research shows eating dinner with your kids produces healthier and happier children who perform better as students. But moms who don't put in 10- and 12-hour work days face water-cooler judgment all the time.

It doesn't matter that we're often the first ones in the office or the last ones to log-off of emails and the system from home at night. It doesn't matter that it should be more important to work smarter, not longer. There's always a lingering resentment among many co-workers and an oppressive sense of guilt shared by working moms.

Can a Harvard-educated, rich, female Chief Operating Officer break the ice and start an honest conversation about job flexibility, not just for moms, but for dads and all workers, whether they have children or not?

When did we start letting corporate honchos convince us that ending the workday before 7 or 8 p.m. is a source of shame and a sign of laziness?

I doubt Sandberg, 42, has to hustle home to actually make dinner like the rest of us working schmucks. Raised in North Miami Beach and married to SurveyMonkey CEO David Goldberg, she reportedly earns a base salary of $300,000, plus $30.5 million in FB shares. She's on the boards of Walt Disney Co. and Starbucks, which comes with its own $280,000 salary.

Still, it's refreshing to finally hear someone talk unapologetically about the time clock issue.

Sandberg outs herself in a video clip on MAKERS.com, a new initiative by AOL that showcases compelling stories from trailblazing women. She admits she has stuck to her 5:30 p.m. hard stop for work since she was a VP at Google and had her first child in 2005. But it's only recently that she's felt secure enough to talk about her exit time publicly.

"I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I'm home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I've been doing that since I had kids," Sandberg says in the video. "I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it's not until the last year, two years that I'm brave enough to talk about it publicly. Now I certainly wouldn't lie, but I wasn't running around giving speeches on it."

To make up for ducking out at 5:30 p.m., Sandberg says she would send emails to colleagues late at night and early in the morning as proof that she was still giving her all to work.

"I was showing everyone I worked for that I worked just as hard. I was getting up earlier to make sure they saw my emails at 5:30, staying up later to make sure they saw my emails late. But now I'm much more confident in where I am and so I'm able to say, 'Hey! I am leaving work at 5:30.' And I say it very publicly, both internally and externally."

I'm no Sheryl Sandberg, but I am one of the "lucky" ones. As a writer, I have a semi-flexible schedule. I typically leave the office at 3:30 or 4 p.m. to pick up my kids from school. I'll head home and get them started on their homework or run errands for those never-ending last-minute "need this for school" demands. Once home, I spend an hour or two on e-mail. Then, after dinner, I'll often take care of pressing work projects, sometimes as late as 1 a.m.

If you add it all up, I typically work far more than 8 hours a day. It can be utterly exhausting at times, but it's worth it for me to have that time with my kids. And it should be worth it to society, too, because theoretically I'm keeping my tweeners from breaking into houses, getting pregnant and wreaking other kinds of havoc on the fabric of our community.

But leaving work at a reasonable hour shouldn't only be my right as a mom. I leave because I have kids; others should have the right to check out after a full day of work because they have a life.

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